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The former drug addict who turns trash into livelihood

August 08, 2017 11:41 IST

After spending 16 years on the streets as a crack cocaine addict, Fabiana da Silva has not only kicked her addiction and found a way to make a living, she has also earned a degree!

Reuters photographer Nacho Doce documents her incredible story.

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana da Silva, 38, jumps off her cart loaded with recyclables in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Fabiana called the streets of Sao Paulo home for 16 years as one of hundreds of people trapped in cracolandia, the open-air drug markets in South America's biggest city.
Now, the street has become a livelihood for Silva, who has kicked an addiction to crack cocaine.

Fabiana da Silva

The word on the container reads: "Freedom".
Fabiana is one of a small army of trash pickers who comb the streets of Sao Paulo, home to 20 million, for materials missed by the city's official recycling trucks.
"The recycling trucks can't keep up," she says. "Now imagine how much people like me have cleaned up. We've saved millions of trees because a tonne of recycled cardboard saves 22 trees from being cut down."
She adds, "The street today puts food on my table."

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana piles her cart with more than 400 kg of recyclables picked from refuse to earn roughly 100 reais (₹650) per day -- the only money she earns to support three children.

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana has also managed to move into an informal two-story dwelling in a nearby slum – a long journey from the time she ran away from home at age 7 to flee an abusive stepfather, ending up in a corner of the city center where dealers sell openly to addicts living on the street.
Silva describes her years in the drug market as "hell."
She spent four stints in the juvenile justice system before she was arrested and discovered she was pregnant with her first child, now 17 years old.

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana says her children, including Brian (8) and Breno (14), were her motivation for quitting drugs after floating through halfway houses: "It took so much strength for me to leave that life. But along came my kids, and I just had to get out."
She adds, "To break addiction, you have to really want out. It's hard when a person is hooked. That's all the body wants."
Eventually, she found work as an assistant social worker tending to addicts, before she turned to recycling for a living.

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana gets her hair and nails done before her high school graduation ceremony.
"I left school in 3rd grade," she says. "Now, after becoming an adult, I went back to school to graduate. It's a great achievement for me. It means so much."

Fabiana da Silva

Fabiana receives her high school graduation certificate.
Having overcome her own addiction, Silva's aspirations do not end on the street. She plans to go to university and become a veterinarian.

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Nacho Doce Sao Paulo