Monday, May 4, 2009


What is Vida Verde?

Vida Verde Intro from Katerina Voutsina on Vimeo.

Vida Verde is a women's association (a cooperativa in Brazilian) which offers "green" cleaning services to individual customers and businesses in the Boston area. The members of the Co-op, are Brazilian housecleaners, who switched to "green" housecleaning from that involving toxic cleaning products.

Helen Sinzker, coordinator of the Co-op says that "many Brazilian housecleaners suffer from skin infections and breathing problems." She adds that many of their current members also chose to join the Co-op because they wanted to protect their working rights. "They were exploited," says Sinzker "while working long hours for private cleaning crews. They were paid $20 dollars per day after having worked long hours and cleaned an average of 9 houses."

What is Vida Verde?

Vida Verde is not only a Co-op. It is a new way of housecleaning introduced by Brazilian housecleaners in Boston, Massachusetts. Recently, the idea traveled to Europe and specifically to Denmark, according to a report by Wicked Local Somerville.

Watch Helen Sinzker talking about the reasons behind the creation of the Co-op.

Vida Verde product making

It was a Sunday afternoon. It was raining cats and dogs, but at the basement of the Brazilian Catholic Church on Somerville Ave. a group of housecleaners was gathered on time for an important meeting: "green cleaning product" making!

Helen Sinzker and some Vida Verde's veteran members came "to train and inform" new housecleaners. Sinzker said that green product making equals less infections and illnesses by toxic products in the housecleaning community.

Watch the video:

Vida Verde product making session, Somerville, MA from Katerina Voutsina on Vimeo.

Green products? Make them at home!

"Vida Verde likes simplicity," says Helen Sinzker. And she is right. Their products are made from vinegar, essential oils, borax and water. Sinzker says that they cost less than $1 each and can be produced in 20 minutes. When asked to reveal the recipe, Sinzker laughed. "Don't expect a book or a 100-pages long booklet . It is only one page. Let me give you the photocopy."

Their products are 7: Amazing, Fabulous, Magic, Fantastic, Dust-Away and Terrific.

Image courtesy: Vida Verde

Try them at home!

The challenges of being a Brazilian housecleaner

"MAPS. Hello? Marcello Carboni....Marcello!?"

His office phone at MAPS (Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers) doesn't stop ringing. However, Marcelo Carboni, Allston Office Manager for MAPS, listens carefully to every call and request of "his customers" and connects them to the specific department.

"My "customers", are men and women of Brazilian origin who usually strive to get through bureaucracy here in the U.S.," says Carboni.

In the soundslide below he adds that especially women housecleaners feel frustrated and overwhelmed.

PROFILE STORY: Clean product making at the basement of a church in Somerville

At the basement of the Catholic Brazilian Church on Somerville Ave., in Somerville, 25 Brazilian house cleaners are gathered every Sunday afternoon to prepare cleaning products from water, vinegar, vegetable soap and essential oils.

Helen Sinzker, 32, a Brazilian journalist, sits in the middle keeping notes. Sinzker, the spokesperson for the Brazilian women's cooperative , is not assigned to cover the event. She organizes it. Her job is to offer weekly “green cleaning” workshops for Brazilian house cleaners around Boston.

Housecleaning challenges-Vida Verde Co-op from Katerina Voutsina on Vimeo.

The need for Vida Verde came out of the dangers Brazilian house cleaners face every day. “They often clean five to six houses a day,” says Sinzker. “Many of them suffer from skin infections or eye irritations, but most of them have respiratory problems, allergies and migraines resulting from exposure to cleaning products containing toxic chemicals,” she adds explaining why the existence of the Co-op is justified.

Sinzker was born and raised in a small village near Sao Paolo. She came in Boston in search of a better job in journalism and worked in several Brazilian media. After she got married to a Brazilian-American in 2006, Sinzker decided to join the Co-op organizing team. Since then she is constantly cooperating with Brazilians in the academia in order to produce data about the Brazilian population in Massachusetts. She says her love for her community is the one that fuels her interest in such research.

At the basement of the catholic Brazilian Church, Sinzker is surrounded by a dozen elementary school kids and their young frustrated mothers, who shout at them in Portuguese. She is almost ready to talk about removing mold and mildew, polishing mirrors, cleaning the foyer, scouring the sink and disinfecting the entire toilet in a “greener way.”

“Migration out of Brazil is a relatively new phenomenon,” says Sinzker reading from a survey booklet by the Mauricio Gastón Institute, in University of Massachusetts (UMass Boston), in which she contributed in 2007. “Brazil has become an emigrant country with more people leaving the country than coming,” she says.

Quoting from the 2000 U.S. Census, Sinzker says that Massachusetts is the second most popular destination for Brazilians coming to the U.S. after Florida, accounting for 17% of the total Brazilian population in this country. She explains that house cleaning was not the ideal job for Brazilian women, but it became a good compromise. “Most of our members in the Co-op,” says Sinzker “have a a high school diploma or even a bachelor’s degree. However, housecleaning is what they ended up doing for a leaving.”

The median age for Brazilian women in the housecleaning field is 33.7 years, says Sinzker. She adds that only about half of all them, speak English well and this is the main reason why most of them cannot usually communicate to their employers the cleaning practices they are used to follow in Brazil.

“It is in our tradition to clean with the windows open,” says Sinzker. “In the States, the home owners ask most of our women to clean with the windows closed while using heavy chemicals. The chemicals affect the health of the clients and the environment, but the cleaners are the ones who suffer the most,” she adds.

Lucimara Rodrigues, 31, who recently joined the Co-op left her career as a lawyer in Belo Horizonte following her husband in the U.S. However, Rodrigues, who doesn’t speak English, argues that the use of heavy chemicals has caused her problems during her first pregnancy. Her best friend lost her baby, says Rodrigues, because she was constantly inhaling toxic products as well.

The instruction is over. Sinzker who is 8-months pregnant looks really tired. She says she is going to offer her Sunday 15-minute sessions till she gives birth. “I love the Co-op she says and I want to keep these women protected whatever it takes.”

The demographics of the Brazilian Community

Why Allston, Somerville and Framingham? Heloisa Galvao, the co-founder of the Brazilian Women's Group in Allston explains why the Brazilians chose to live in the above areas of Boston.