Favio Chavez is on a mission to turn trash into music and help create a brighter future for the children of Paraguay.
The village of Cateura which is located in the Paraguayan capitol city of Asuncion, is essentially built on top of the city’s main landfill. Families scrape out a living sorting through the trash for valuables they can sell. Like so many other impoverished areas in the world, gangs and drugs are endemic and the children of the area grow up with no hope of ever leaving the landfill.
But one man, Favio Chavez who is a local ecologist and musician, has found a way to give hope back to an entire generation. Chavez is teaching the children of Cateura to play music on instruments made from trash scrounged from the landfill. As the Los Angeles Times reports,
Chavez first encountered these children when he worked on a waste recycling project at the landfill from 2006-’08 and got to know some of the local families … More than 40% of children in the area don’t finish school because their parents need them to work, so initially the idea of an orchestra was simply to keep the kids from playing in the landfill.
In a Skype interview Chavez told the LA Times,
At first it was very difficult because we had no place to rehearse and we had to teach in the same place where the parents were working in the trash. The children knew nothing about music and it was very difficult to contact parents because many of them do not live with their children.
Eventually, parents began to see that playing music was keeping their kids out of trouble, some even reclaiming children they had previously abandoned.
The program was so successful in fact that in a short period of time there were more pupils than instruments. It was at this point that Chavez started experimenting with making them out of recycled trash from the landfill. For example, the string instruments have traditional scrolls, fingerboards, tailpiecs and strings, but the body and other bits are made from whatever can be found lying around. Chavez says,
Eventually the recycled instruments were improved, and in many cases, they now sound better than the wooden Made In China instruments the more able children play on … The recycled instruments serve another, more practical purpose: The kids can safely carry them. 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.
Of the 50 students currently studying under Chavez 25 of them make up the Recycled Orchestra, which has toured Rio de Janeiro, Panama and Bogota, Colombia. However, making top musicians out of his students is not Chavez’s goal. His goal instead is to show his pupils, their parents, and the community as a whole that the simple act of studying something is truly worthwhile.
Chavez believes so strongly in what he is doing that in 2011 he quit his job so as to be able to devote all of his time to the Cateura project. He said,
I noticed that the children have made progress and we are at a time when they definitely are changing their lives through the orchestra. We dream that families and children can have a better house and Internet access, so they can connect with opportunities.
Opportunities for Chavez and his students are presenting themselves already. The government of Paraguay is providing support for the development of a music school, and a documentary titled Landfill Harmonic is expected to be finished in 2013.
Watch the Landfill Harmonic trailer: