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Favio Chavez encourages musical creativity using highly unconventional instruments

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Frontline Online: Is this possibly the most creative use of waste ever?

January 20th, 2013

by Lorna Howarth

In her weekly column, the Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on the stories that show standing up for what we believe in can and does make a real difference.

My life would be worthless without music

"The world sends us garbage, we send back music" says Favio Chavez, Director of the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, a singularly creative and inspiring story from Paraguay. 

A group of musically-talented youth whose homes and family livelihoods are dependent upon a landfill site in Cateura, found themselves bereft of instruments on which to practice and perform. So Chavez asked some of the adult rag-pickers if they could help to fashion instruments out of trash. 

Ever-industrious and imaginative, they began to create instruments out of discarded metal tins, oil drums and wood scavenged from the dump. "I feel very happy when I see a kid play a recycled violin," says one of the makers. "I never imagined myself building an instrument like this." 

Ada Bordados is 13-years-old and plays the violin - but not just any old violin: hers is the most unconventional violin ever, made as it is from a cut and shaped metal tin. "My life would be worthless without music," she says, as she walks to a practice session alongside open sewers littered with plastic waste. 

Bebi, who is 19, is the proud owner of a cello made from an oil drum, with recycled wooden pegs, but when he plays it, all doubts about the instrument's veracity fade: incredibly, it sounds just like a cello. 

A real violin that children in other parts of the world might take for granted costs more than a house in Cateura, but undaunted, the parents and teachers of these gifted children would not see them go without.

Once likely waste materials have been garnered from the dump, they are taken to a workshop where skilled craftsmen work their magic: who would've thought a battered aluminium salad bowl could become the body of a violin, with strings tuned by a kitchen fork, or that bottle caps and coins would make perfectly good keys for a saxophone? 

And listening to the children playing en semble on their recycled instruments is really moving  - it shows how even in the face of adversity, beauty and creativity thrive. 

The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra is in great demand for performances as people marvel at the ingeniousness of the instruments, makers and players. "People shouldn't throw away trash needlessly," says Favio Chavez, "but we shouldn't throw away people either. We want to provide a way out of landfill for these kids and their families." 

The orchestra gives the children real hope for the future in what otherwise is a desperate place: to date they have performed in Brazil, Panama and Colombia and have over 106,000 followers on Facebook - which is no mean feat!

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing ageny, The Write Factor Contact:



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