Landfill Harmonic: An Orchestra Built From Trash

landfill harmonic

Citizens of Cateura, Paraguay, are proving the old phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” every single day. Did they find gold? Some ancient relic that is worth an immense amount of money? No, they found something better. There amidst the trash, they found musical instruments. But these instruments weren’t your average busted brass trombones and trumpets that simply had their dents knocked out. No, these instruments were literally made, piece-by-piece, out of landfill garbage. Those instruments formed an orchestra that gave the entire community the gift of music.

Cateura, Paraguay

A slum built on a landfill, a 2010 UN report found that more than 15 tons of trash are dumped in Cateura each day. The water supply is dangerously polluted to the point that when it rains, residents find themselves flooded in contaminated water. So how do these people survive? By sifting through trash and finding goods to resell. When they stumbled across a violin body, they got the idea to rebuild it. And that’s what they did. First with the violin and then with random scraps that became other instruments. A busted gnocchi roller became a tuning key for a violin; a metal oil barrel became the body of a cello. Over and over again, this community found creative ways not to just make an instrument, but to build an orchestra.

“A violin is worth more than a house.”

This statement was made by Favio Chavez, conductor of the orchestra. As you can imagine, illiteracy is rampant among the 2500 families that live around the landfill. However, that has not stopped Favio from building an orchestra from some of the town’s brightest young minds. Scores of kids had instruments built from the trash found in the landfill. Recycling at its very best, he seized the opportunity to teach each kid music.

Music as a Metaphor

It can be very easy to toss away an impoverished community. To simply write them off as people who will never stop struggling. However, just as music is a universal language, so is the human spirit. One little girl exclaimed that her life “would be nothing without music.” Juan Manual Chavez, another student in the orchestra astutely said, “People realize that we shouldn’t throw trash away carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw people away either.” This orchestra now performs with some of the best young musicians from far richer nations that use “normal” instruments. Are they fazed? Absolutely not. Because their instruments sound as good, if not better, then some high-dollar renditions.

Recycling as a Gift

Many people view recycling as a chore. However, this community has truly treated recycling as a gift. A gift they are ready to share with the rest of the world through their music. So the next time you separate glass from wood scrap, know that in a far away place, those essential items are the basis for a musical instrument that will stir the soul of a young child’s mind in the form of a xylophone or whatever their imagination allows them to create.

Key Takeaways:

  • Impoverished community Cateura, Paraguay sits on a landfill supporting 2500 families who sell scrap they salvage.
  • One day a partial violin body was restored.
  • The refurbished violin inspired the community to build more instruments out of whatever scrap they could get their hands on.
  • A children’s orchestra was formed.
  • The orchestra now plays alongside far richer nations proudly touting their instruments, all through the miracle of recycling.

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