At first glance, not enough to feed his family. But the scene immortalized by a photographer collaborating with AFP, on November 8, went around the world. A few weeks before the end of the year holidays, the image of this skinny, shirtless black teenager, brandishing a dented tree of about thirty centimeters, aroused a surge of solidarity. “I had never had a Christmas tree at home,” says the young boy, who dreams of becoming a professional footballer.
Gabriel lives with his mother and two older brothers in a modest adobe house in Pinheiro, a small country town in the state of Maranhao, in northeastern Brazil. On the floor, no tiles, just dark brown dirt. From inside, you can see the sky through the open space between the wall and the thatched roof.
“My favorite gift is the bike”
But now this modest home is decorated with a Christmas tree. Not that of the landfill, but a large artificial tree, brand new, with a golden star at the top, balls – also golden – and a flashing garland. It’s just one of the many donations his family has received since the iconic photo went viral on social media.
“We also received clothes, mattresses and baskets of food. Thank God, we will be able to spend Christmas in peace, ”says Maria Francisca Silva, 45, Gabriel’s mother, who earns around 600 reais per month (around 95 euros) by selling recyclable waste from the neighboring landfill.
Online fundraisers collecting donations from across the country should soon allow her to make her family dream come true: to build a real house, hard.
Thanks to a first donation of 500 reais (around 80 euros), she has already been able to buy a hydraulic pump to lift water from the well dug near her house. “My favorite gift is the bicycle,” says Gabriel, who received a bicycle from a teacher at his college.
When not at school, the teenager helps his mother pick up recyclable waste from the landfill. “I prefer to bring him with me because, if he is left alone, he risks hanging out in the streets and taking drugs. He’s a good boy, he always wanted to help me, ”says Maria Francisca Silva. But today Gabriel has become a celebrity: “People don’t leave me alone, they want to take pictures of me all the time. “
“An apocalypse scene”
Photographer Joao Paulo Guimaraes, who lives in the neighboring state of Para, got the idea to make this report when he saw a shocking video of residents of the neighborhood running after a truck carrying waste from a supermarket to dump it in discharge. “It was madness, there were about fifty people. It is the last degree of misery, describes Eurico Arruda, author of the video and Defender of Rights in Pinheiro. This discharge is an apocalypse scene. There is smoke everywhere, people are collecting trash among stray dogs and vultures. “
Thanks to the impact of Gabriel’s photo, Eurico Arruda hopes to help the whole community. He also founded a cooperative so that waste collectors can assert their rights.
The mayor of Pinheiro has already promised to pay them an allowance of 100 reais per month and to build, from next year, a real landfill that respects health standards.
According to a report by the statistics institute IBGE, made public at the beginning of December, 24.1% of Brazilians were living below the poverty line in 2020. And the situation has deteriorated further in recent months due to ‘galloping inflation that hits the most modest hardest, in an economy still weighed down by the coronavirus crisis.