Orchestra transforms trash into musical instruments, offers hope in Paraguay

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News
April 5, 2013

One man's trash is a child's hope.

A few years ago, music teacher Favio Chávez set up a music program for children living in Cateura, Paraguay, "a town essentially built on top of a landfill."

"One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments," said 36-year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

"But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few."

In an area where children are at high risk of getting involved in the drug and gang scene, his program offered them something new: hope.

Using trash as materials to build musical instruments, "La Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura," or "The Recycled Orchestra," was founded.

"Landfill Harmonic," a documentary about the children of a Paraguayan sum and the transformative power of music, is currently in production. See the Kickstarter page here.

"Too many children in the world are born into lives with little or no hope," the Kickstarter team wrote.

"Landfill Harmonic reveals a mind-boggling, inventive effort to change that — musical instruments made from trash. In the barrios of Paraguay, a humble garbage picker uses his ingenuity to craft instruments out of recycled materials — and a youth orchestra is born. Music arises and children find new dreams."

The documentary team is also collecting used instruments to distribute all over the globe:

"We have set up an instruments bank in Phoenix, AZ. We would gladly receive your instrument here and given the opportunity, send it to the Orchestra. Also, we would like to let you know that since this project has touched so many people in different parts of the world, the orchestra is looking forward to institute similar programs in other communities around the globe. Therefore, your instruments could end up in the hands of a child in Haiti, or Kenya."

NPR noted that a 2010 UNICEF report about Cateura stated that more than 1500 tons of solid waste arrives each day.

"Illiteracy is rampant there, and Cateura's youngest inhabitants are often the ones responsible for collecting and reselling the garbage. The water supply is very dangerously polluted; on rainy days, the town floods with contaminated water," NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas wrote.

"A violin is worth more than a house here," said Chávez.

Read more about the inspiring project here.