Proving that nothing is impossible and music is everywhere, a group of children from a slum in Paraguay took garbage from the landfill where many of their parents work and created musical instruments. They are the Landfillharmonic Recycled Orchestra.
The orchestra started out as an extension of the social program, “Sonidos de la Tierra”, or Sounds of the Earth, just outside of Asunción, Paraguay. Its purpose was to keep children safe by keeping them from playing in Cateura, the city’s landfill. For Luis Szaran, the program’s director, music is the smile of the soul, and it was in the landfill that the first music lessons were taught. As more students showed interest, the program began to grow, and as enrollment increased, the idea to create instruments from scrap materials was born.
There was originally an instrument building workshop in place for some children, but they did not have enough wood or other materials to keep up with the demand. That is when they turned to Nicolas, one of the garbage pickers. They gave him an instrument to use as a model and he created a replica with recycled materials. As soon as they saw that the instruments worked just as well as any that could be purchased, they formed workshops to teach children to build them out of recyclables.
The recycled instruments allowed the orchestra to gain more members, improve their skills, and keep children safe. Safety comes into play because in some cases, the neighborhoods where some of the children live are not safe enough for them to carry pricey instruments without being robbed. “A violin is worth more than a house here,” says orchestra director and founder, Fabio Chavez, who also says the goal was, “not to create good musicians, but to create good citizens.”
Since forming the orchestra, Chavez and the group’s members have toured Europe, offering concerts in education centers. The children continue to develop as musicians and they play as well as any other musicians. While many of the members continue to live below the poverty line, Chavez says music can’t change that immediately, but it can, “help educate children so fewer will be victims of hunger and poverty.”
The orchestra currently has 35 members, and will release a film about their story later this year. For now, the orchestra is keeping itself occupied by opening for Metallica on their South American tour. The tour schedule can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/landfillharmonicmovie.