One Man’s Trash is a Village’s Orchestra

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In Paraguay, South America there is a village, called Cateura, whose main industry is collecting and recycling the waste from the rest of the country. Being from a poor village that acts as Paraguay’s dumping grounds, the citizens of Cateura subsist mainly on sorting and recycling garbage. The documentary Landfill Harmonic, tells the story of Favio Chavez, a music teacher in Cateura, who decided to create a school music program using instruments made entirely of recycled garbage.

Favio Chavez came to the poor village of Cateura, Paraguay to install a music program in the local school. However, instruments costs money and, having students use violins and cellos that cost more than their houses (about $600), made little sense to Chavez as it could jeopardize the safety and learning processes of the students. His solution was to construct violins, cellos and wind instruments out of forks, cans and recycled pieces of wood, all obtained from the town’s landfill.

According to the documentary’s teaser and an interview with the filmmaker on CBC Radio 1, Chavez’s music program has injected life into the once marginalized town. While it was once an embarrassment to be from Cateura, a town dedicated to sorting garbage, its music program has received international recognition. Now, being from Cateura instills a sense of pride to those who live there. The town is experiencing changes in the quality of life of its residents and the children of Cateura remark that Chavez’s music program has given them a sense of purpose and joy in their lives. Here is the documentary’s teaser:

I love this story because it shows how simple innovation using the seemingly worthless materials that life throws our way, can give us the power to change an entire community. The story reminds us to never underestimate the power of humanity, community and, of course, art and music, to create positive peaceful change and transformation. In regards to health we know that socioeconomic status is one of the main predictors of disease. Those who suffer from negative stigmatization and live in poverty are less likely to seek help and feel empowered in front of medical professionals, suffering greater rates of morbidity and mortality from disease. By inspiring a sense of self-worth and belonging through innovation and creativity, we’ve seen how a poor town has changed its entire social identity.

The saying used to be, “if life gives you lemons…”. But through this inspiring story we now know that, if life dumps some garbage on your lap, you can create an full-piece orchestra.


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