Landfill Harmonic: A story of how landfill trash gives rise to a youth orchestra in Paraguay playing musical instruments made from scrap materials

Making useful items out of trash is not a new thing as people in countries all over the world have been applying their resourcefulness in this way for centuries. In Paraguay, a youth orchestra was formed following the creation of musical instruments made from trash.

The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura was founded by music teacher and environmental engineer by Favio Chavez in Asunción in 2006. The group play musical instruments made from scrap materials collected from Asunción’s Cateura landfill. Most people in Asunción make their living by collecting and selling plastic bottles or anything they can recycle from rubbish.

On the edges of the Cateura landfill near Paraguay’s capital, Favio Chavez has been teaching a group of children to play violins, cellos, saxophones, flutes and drums, all crafted from garbage.

In a country where Favio Chavez says “social conditions often limit the ability to dream”, a musical instrument is an unattainable treasure. With an awareness that as a child music was the first thing that gave him “a sense of purpose”, Favio Chavez’s meeting with Nicolas “Cola” Gomez, a rubbish picker who had some experience in carpentry, led to the pair coming up with the idea of making instruments from waste.

Cola turned oil cans into cellos and violins, waterpipes into saxophones and X-rays into drumheads.

Children soon wanted to join the project, and with the support of the whole community an orchestra was born. Its slogan is: “The world sends us garbage. We send back music!” Since then, the orchestra has toured throughout Latin America and in Spain. In 2014, it was invited to open the heavy metal group Metallica’s concerts during its South American tour.

In 2015, Landfill Harmonic, a documentary retracing the history of the orchestra was released. Landfill Harmonic’s executive producer Alejandra Amarilla, who was born in Ascunción, said: “People in Paraguay have an incredible strength and their resilience should be an example to us all.  The community of Cateura has demonstrated that even though they are living in very challenging conditions they can also be resourceful and innovative. They found a way to transcend their circumstances.

“I would like to see continued new opportunities to be given to children in Paraguay. Bringing music as a way to transformation in areas like Cateura is a big start to turn on the desire for more education and growth. The idea is to end the cycle of poverty through education. The parents of the orchestra members are also changing. They now see the importance of the arts and music, something that had no previous value to them. They were simply focused on surviving day to day. Now they see another perspective. They see their children can also aspire for more and achieve greater goals.”

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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