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Landfill Harmonic: Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra Transforms Trash into Music


The village of Cateura, home to 2,500 impoverished families, is built on top of the largest garbage dump in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción. Illiteracy is rampant, the water supply is extremely polluted, and the children grow up surrounded by drugs and gangs. Many eventually give up their education and end up spending their lives sorting through trash to find scrap they can sell.

Amidst the slum’s severe poverty and pollution, music teacher Favio Chavez has organized an awe-inspiring group of young students to create an orchestra, in which Cateura’s children play musical instruments made from recycled materials from the landfill. While the string instruments have traditional tailpieces, fingerboards, scrolls and strings, the instruments’ body, tuning pegs, and other parts are essentially made from trash.

“For many children, it was impossible to give them a violin to take home because they had nowhere to keep it and their parents were afraid they would be robbed or the instrument would be sold to buy drugs,” Chavez said to The Los Angeles Times.

Chavez’s initial goal was to build an orchestra that could help keep the kids from occupying the landfill, as more than 40% of children in Cateura do not finish school because their parents need them to work.

As of now, Chavez has taught more than 120 children and currently has 50 students, 25 of which make up the recycled orchestra.

“In 2011 I quit my job to devote full time to the project in Cateura because I noticed that the children have made progress, and we are at a time when they definitely are changing their lives through the orchestra,” Chavez said. “We dream that families and children can have a better house and Internet access, so they can connect with opportunities.”

Since then, the Paraguayan government has agreed to provide support to establish a music school, and the teaser of ‘Landfill Harmonic,’ a documentary expected to be completed in 2013 about the orchestra, has become viral on the Internet. The sight of a boy passionately playing Bach on his oil-drum cello is difficult not to share.

“Music causes children to connect and feel they are building something together,” Chavez says. “Our orchestra feels special because the children make beauty out of garbage.”

Images courtesy of: Landfill Harmonic