As the world tries to come up with interesting ways to spread the word about saving our environment, a man in Paraguay has found an innovative way to promote “green” ideas and social awareness – while also encouraging music.
Favio Chávez was working at a huge landfill south of the capital, Asunción, several years ago when he made friends with the families who worked as recyclers and lived among the trash. He eventually figured out how to use the scraps of dirty oil cans, jars, wood, forks and other junk in the Cateura Landfill to make instruments for his very own orchestra, with the local kids as its members.
“It’s awe inspiring that people could live in that degree of squalor and still have the spirit to make this orchestra
- Graham Townsley, Documentary director
“One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments,” explains 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.”
A musician himself, Chávez had experience forming classical ensembles. But constructing a brass and string section from scratch wasn’t part of the plan.
At first, he just threw together a few for the children who didn’t have something to play with. But after hearing the good sound the objects produced, he consulted the help of a resident garbage picker nicknamed “Cola” to gradually perfect them over time.
What astonished everyone was how the recycler used his basic carpentry skill to engineer such smooth sounding, built-to-scale cellos and violins in his workshop just from scraps.
“It was very difficult at first and it has been a learning process,” says Favio. “But after four years of testing them out, we discovered which materials were better for resonance effects and built the instruments that we use now.”
His love of music is what made Chávez form the orchestra, now 30 member-strong.
While it has been a big commitment for the children and families, it has paid off – they’ve received worldwide recognition and have performed throughout the world, from Argentina to Brazil to Germany.
Their unique story is so special that a U.S.-based filmmaker is currently making a documentary about them. “Landfill Harmonic” follows Favio’s ensemble as it takes what the world throws away and turns it into a piece of beauty.
The children orchestra has donated some instruments to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona and plans to play a show there soon.
“It’s awe inspiring that people could live in that degree of squalor and still have the spirit to make this orchestra,” said documentary director Graham Townsley. “It’s breathtaking.“
The ultimate goal of the music project is to educate the public about a world problem, they say, that shouldn’t be ignored. Plus, it’s giving the children an opportunity they otherwise would never have had.
“I made this orchestra to educate the world and raise awareness,“ says Chávez. “But it’s also a social message to let people know that even though these students are in extreme poverty, they can also contribute to society. They deserve an opportunity.”
David Noto is a freelance writer based in Bogotá, Colombia.