When we first started working with La Toma in mid-2007, they were held together by little more than desperate poverty and a whole lot of other people’s trash.
Following Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse, these women and men from the south side of Buenos Aires were making a living going through people’s trash and selling anything of value for a marginal profit. Many of them had lived on the streets; some were back and forth from one month to the next. All were living day to day.
Over four years and 11 projects with The Working World, La Toma has turned into a stable, community-based business that provides a livelihood for dozens of people. During this time we have helped them buy machines to add value to their work, safety equipment and uniforms to make their jobs safer and prouder, and a truck to both receive and distribute the cooperative’s growing volumes. Throughout our partnership, we have responded to their changing needs with incisive business advice to improve their long-term sustainability and provide all cooperative members with a broader set of professional skills.
Through this process, La Toma has become more of a protagonist in its own development story. The cooperative applied for and received a city permit to recycle high-end technological refuse like discarded computers, enabling them to enter the formal economy and ensure an inflow of high-value materials. As revenues increased, the cooperative, deeply rooted in the community where it is based, began to give back. They contracted a technician to learn how to repair computers and eventually rescued dozens of machines that otherwise would have been discarded. With these computers, they opened a local youth education center from which dozens of teenagers have graduated with a new set of skills, and recognized diplomas to prove it. They also sell computers starting at $200 pesos (around USD $40) to local families on a need-based sliding scale. On top of this already remarkable feat, the success of the youth center has led to the establishment of a soup kitchen that is now feeding 50-60 children per day.