If there’s one thing us humans can do really well, it’s waste. We sure know how to waste, we even build monuments to our wasting prowess – huge, barren stretches of land heaped with nothing but tons upon tons of rubbish, running on mile after rotting mile. As if our crowded landfills weren’t proof enough of our vast capacity to waste, a recent report suggests that half the food grown in the whole wide world is wasted! If that doesn’t spark even the tiniest pang of guilt, you’re probably dead inside.
Cateuran musicians-in-training on their way to orchestra practice.
There’s hope, however, and it’s coming from the banks of Paraguay River in South America. Situated along the river’s edge lies a huge landfill – where a staggering 1,500 tons of waste are dumped each day – and on top of this landfill sits a slum, Cateura. Its residents make their living out of the rubbish, not only recycling, sorting and selling on the waste for small amounts of money, but turning them into tools and implements they’re able to use in their everyday lives for minimum expense.
Landfill worker Favio Chavez, touched equally by the villagers’ plight and also their recycling ingenuity, decided to do something to help the community. He’s a musician, and so set about teaching the Cateuran children to play using his own instruments. Demand increased steadily amongst the community, and soon Chavez didn’t have enough instruments to go around. It was out of the question for the children’s parents to buy more for them, as (sickeningly) an average violin is worth more than their dwellings in Cateura.
Chavez crafting a violin in his workshop.
It was then that Chavez came up with a beautiful solution, and set about creating cellos out of oil drums, flutes out of old pipes, violins out of cans. Not only do they look stunning, they sound just as good as their more expensive counterparts. And the best thing? Chavez is inspiring a whole new generation, giving invaluable opportunities to an incredibly hardworking but (until now) ignored and marginalised community who would never have had them otherwise. One Cateuran violinist, a girl in her teens, tells us: “My life would be worthless without music.” No, we’re not crying… there’s just something in our eye.
The result: stunning ‘rubbish’ violins
Chavez and his recycled orchestra are now the stars of a feature-length documentary, Landfill Harmonic, which is set to be released in selected cinemas sometime this year.