Many places in Latin America suffer from poverty and dire living conditions. One of these is the city of Cateura in Paraguay, which is one of the poorest in the region. It is built around a hill and surrounded by a garbage dump, which some residents search through for something useful to collect and sell.
Some of those people had the inspiration to alter their lives by transforming garbage into musical instruments. That is how the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura has been created.
The story began a few years ago when Favio Chavez, an environmental engineer with a musical education, wanted to teach music to the local children. In Cateura, about 40% of these kids don’t finish school because they have to support their families financially.
The beginning of the project was difficult because they had no place to rehearse and there were very few instruments. Favio Chavez teamed up with Nicolas Gomez Cola, a garbage collector, and tried to construct instruments from the recycled materials of the local garbage dump.
They made wind instruments and string from bottle caps, oil cans and other materials. As the time went by, they improved their methods and added new instruments to their repertoire. Soon a full orchestra was set up.
This was a major achievement, since, as Chavez has stated, having a musical instrument in that area can be more expensive than owning a home.
The recycled instruments not only fulfilled a dream for local children, it also instilled a sense of safety and community. On top of that, it taught them about an important ecological problem of our time, pollution and the treatment of garbage.
Pollution is a global issue and concerns everyone. Every year enormous quantities of garbage are generated worldwide. More than 2 kilograms per person are created daily in OECD nations, while in South Asia the rate number is under half a kilo per person. Somewhere around 25% of the world’s garbage is modified to recycling, digestion or composting, according to the World Watch Institute.
It is amazing to see how these people from a small town in Paraguay, where almost 24 % of its population lives below the poverty line, have changed trash completely and converted it into sound. “The world sends us garbage, we send back music,” says Chavez in the documentary Landfill Harmonic, which is currently being produced.
This action is both innovative and can be easily applicable to other countries. It raises awareness for protecting the environment, improved the quality of living, and focuses on educational opportunities.
Local Investment, Global Success
Their project has been successful and impacted many people so far. For instance, the Musical Instruments Museum decided to hold a permanent exhibition with a collection of their recycled instruments, and on Facebook they have over 255,000 likes.
Today the orchestra consists of about 35 musicians and includes instruments such as guitars, cellos, bass, violins, violas, flutes and drums, while their repertoire includes everything from classical music to Latin rhythm, and folk to the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.