Dona Geralda Marçal

Ashoka Fellow
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Fellow Since 2004


This profile was prepared when Dona Geralda Marçal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Dona Geralda’s approach is rooted in the firm personal knowledge that catadores can find success on three levels: as social individuals, as entrepreneurs, and as responsible citizens. First, drawing from her life experience, she helps catadores organize to meet their own social needs. She has developed ASMARE, a model association of garbage workers involved in collecting, sorting, and recycling waste on the streets of Brazil. As members of the association, catadores commit to a code of professional and personal practices that not only elevate their sense of self-worth, but also enable them to obtain counseling, health services, and education for themselves and their families.
Business ventures and economic stability are the second main thrust of Dona Geralda’s work. Links with private companies and municipal authorities optimize collection activities and secure space for the catadores to process and store their collected materials. This infrastructure allows catadores to bypass exploitative middlemen and get fair market prices for their products. Their increased income, combined with access to facilities and services to help them move from homelessness to permanent housing, enables catadores to develop new skills and ensure better opportunities for their children.
Finally, Dona Geralda prepares catadores for active citizenship, tackling tenacious problems like pollution and waste management. Their recycling work has the potential to greatly improve environmental conditions, and working with ASMARE, they push for sensible waste management policies that make the most of this potential. As they gain an awareness of their impact on large-scale problems, catadores awaken to their professional worth and civic power.
Dona Geralda’s work with catadores uniquely synthesizes psychological, social, economic, and environmental pursuits, and redefines catadores as a vibrant, self-sufficient, and socially engaged segment of the Brazilian population. Dona Geralda has replicated her model throughout her home state of Minas Gerais and is poised to bring her approach to other Brazilian states where urban migration is exacerbating the problem of homelessness and the vulnerability of catadores.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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