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When you hear the word ‘orchestra’, recycled isn’t the first thought that would come to mind. Wander to an outskirts village slum called Cateura in Paraguay, and a faint sound of music in the distance would greet you. Recognized as the end point dump of solid waste every day, Cateura also houses the beginning of musical instruments made from salvaged items from the dump.
Where a Violin is Worth More than a House
Great ideas arise when you identify a problem and seek to solve it. “I see music as a tool for social transformation,” Luiz Száran asserts. Száran is the director of Sounds of the Earth, a program that reaches villages in Paraguay through music with social development in mind. It goes by the argument that a child who plays Mozart by day will not break shop windows by night. Száran and Favio Chávez, a music teacher and ecologist, formed a partnership and ventured into Cateura to start a program to teach music to children.
As time went on, the children kept coming for lessons. But they lacked instruments. It was a ratio of five violins to fifty students. They also had a dilemma: since a violin was worth more than a house, would it be wise to give the children their own instruments; where could they keep it safe? Chávez pointed out in an interview that potential theft posed an issue for them.
The brainwave came when Chávez realized that they were sitting on a goldmine – the landfill. Even the villagers made a living out of selling salvaged items from it. It would also solve the problem of potential robbery; they reasoned that no one would want to steal something that came from the landfill.
“The world sends us garbage, we send back music,” says Favio Chávez.
The ‘Recycled Orchestra’ is a product of Chávez’s hard work. The children have no musical background whatsoever. And then when you hear them playing pieces by Bach and Mozart, you have the notion that Chávez has hit on something real. Currently, the ‘Recycled Orchestra’ is 30 members strong, and they have been and played to crowds in Argentina, Brazil and Germany.
The children of Cateura shot to fame through the currently ongoing production of ‘Landfill Harmonic’, a film undertaken by Graham Townsley to showcase Chávez’ work in the region and his journey with the children.
Favio Chavez’s Impact in the Children’s World
Teenagers have an abundance of energy; when given a chance, supplemented with appropriate empathy, they are eager to work, to give value to something. But they are also easily frustrated when put in a situation that inhibits them. And what happens is a reaction into rebellion or listlessness. This is why Chávez’ role goes further than just a provider of music lessons. He is the symbol of hope for the children, giving them direction and purpose through the medium of music. It opens a window for them to see beyond their circumstances.
“Many children in my country haven’t found the meaning of life. They get into drugs and alcohol because they don’t know what to do with their lives,” one student remarks.
Another girl in the ensemble says firmly, “My life would be worthless without music.” Her statement profoundly captures the extent of impact of the program.
Indeed, the ‘Recycled Orchestra’ has been a breath of new life in the village.