The world generates about a billion tons of garbage each year. The people who are forced to live with it and live off of it are those in poverty, such as the people of Cateura, Paraguay. The city of Cateura is basically built on top of the city’s main landfill, which receives 1,500 tons of solid waste every day. Though the trash affords many people a living (through selling things they find), it also has a huge negative impact on them. This build up of garbage exposes the city’s impoverished population to extremely unhealthy conditions.
Favio Chavez, a local ecologist who grew up near the area, desired to teach the children of Cateura how to play music. In 2002, he began running a Boys Orchestra in his home village of Carapuengá. He met the children of Cateura when he worked on a waste recycling project at the landfill from 2006-2008. Chavez quickly noticed a huge problem – more than 40 percent of children in the area never finished school because their parents needed them to work.
The initial idea of an orchestra was meant to keep the kids out of trouble and stop them from playing in the piles of trash. What evolved was much more than Chavez had ever bargained for – things began to change. When Chavez noted that the amount of students exceeded the amount of instruments, he got creative. Instruments were made out of items found in the landfill; what was once trash was being turned into something purely beautiful and enriching.
The recycled instruments not only offered a positive solution to the large amount of waste, but also safety for the students carrying 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,” said Chavez.
Chavez’s efforts in the city became quite well-known, and soon attracted the interest of Alejandra Nash and Juliana Penaranda-Loftus. The two had been on a research trip in Paraguay in 2009 in order to create a documentary about the impoverished children of the country. Immediately, the two knew that Landfill Harmonic would be their documentary; it could bring light to poverty, child labor, and waste pollution.
“Los Reciclados story instantly took my breath away,” said Nash.
Penaranda-Loftus was equally impressed. “In the summer of 2010, we met the first group of children who were part of the recycled orchestra; those children are now playing with professional orchestras. We have been following this story since then. We went back in 2011 and have gone twice in 2012. Now there is a new group of children that have joined the orchestra. We have witnessed the commitment that Favio Chavez (orchestra director) has towards these children of Cateura, their families and their community. There is a whole social process that happens behind running the orchestra. We have developed very strong ties with them during these years and this is a story that goes way beyond the screen.”
Since then, Nash and Penaranda-Loftus has brought Emmy nominated Director Graham Townsley and the filming crew of “60 Minutes” to Cateura. They are planning to follow the orchestra all over the world and hope to complete post-production of the documentary by the end of this year.
“Our job as filmmakers is to share this remarkable story of creativity, hope, and endurance with the world,” said Penaranda-Loftus. “We also hope to bring awareness to major global themes of our time — poverty and garbage management.”
– Samantha Davis