Today Paraguay celebrates “children’s day” and I can’t think of better way to celebrate this day than to post about this truly amazing project.
About Children’s Day
Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other). Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost two thirds of its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina.
Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the infamous Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan Mariscal Francisco Lopez used younger recruits aged six to fifteen. The 3,500 force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2,000 children lay dead. Children’s Day is a national holiday, used to remember this event.
The Landfill Harmonic
Cateura is regarded as one of the poorest slums in Latin America, a village where people live among a sea of garbage. The Cateura landfill, in the Bañado Sur area along the Paraguay River, is the final dumping site for more than 1,500 tons of solid waste each day. Seven neighbourhoods housing some 2,500 families surround the dump. Most of these families earn a living by separating garbage for the recycling industry. Children are often the ones with the onerous and unsanitary chore of collecting and peddling the waste. Prospects for most of the children born in Cateura are bleak as gangs and drugs await many of them. But then one day, something amazing happened…
“A garbage picker named Nicolás Gómez (known as “Cola”) found a piece of trash that resembled a violin and brought it to musician Favio Chávez. Using other objects collected from the dump, the pair constructed a functional violin in a place where a real violin is worth more a house. Using items gleaned completely from the dump, the pair then built a cello, a flute, a drum, and suddenly had a wild idea: could a children’s orchestra be born in one of the most depressed areas in the world? As you can guess, the answer was yes.”
“The Recycled Orchestra” was soon formed with a group of 30 schoolchildren from Cateura – the sons and daughters of recyclers – playing instruments made entirely of garbage. Last year Landfill Harmonic was filmed, a short clip, about the orchestra and their music, which attracted international attention.
Since then, they have become an international hit and toured the world showcasing their music: from Germany to the West Bank, and as we speak they are in the middle of their US tour, where they already have sold out events in several cities. Cateura is everything you can imagine and worst, and to know these children can overcome such barriers doesn’t only highlight the incredible influence of music but also about the potential of youth provided the right incentives and environment.
“A real violin is worth more than a house here”
– Favio Chavez, director of orchestra
Landfill Harmonic is much more than a movie, it is a beautiful story about the transformative power of music, the power of creativity, hope, empowerment and community work.
Today, on Children’s Day, lets remember no only those who died, but also lets celebrate the courage and commitment to life of these unrecognised heroes.
You can find out more about this project and donate to this cause through the links:
Article in The Guardian:
(all pictures used are from Landfill Harmonic)