Slum Symphonies


Sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay has one of the fastest growing economies in South America. With growth comes 1wealth. And with wealth comes 2trash. Just outside the capital city of Asuncion is the 3slum of Cateura, built on the 4banks of a river polluted by the chemicals and 5sewage deposited daily in the massive 6landfill that dominates the area.


Why do people choose to live in places like these – places that 7stink and are regularly 8flooded? The answer is simple. The price of land in Paraguay is so high, this 9rubbish dump is all that is left to them.

Many of the residents make their living from the rubbish. They pick out the plastic and metal and sell it for small sums. It is enough to keep them going. They do not 10starve. But 11nor do they make enough to offer their children a better life.

This is why ecological technician Favio Chávez decided to teach the slum children to play music. He wanted them to have something other than drugs and crime to influence them. And at first he used his own instruments. But, as he told Fox News Latino, “It got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and actually create a few.”

The instruments are basically rubbish. Chávez and his musicians search the landfill for old 12oil drums, discarded 13pipes, 14tin cans and shoe 15heels. They make the body of the cello with the oil drum, a flute with the pipe, a guitar from the tin can and pegs for the string instruments with the shoe heels or pieces of wood and 16cutlery. Only the strings are not recycled rubbish.

“The world 17sends us garbage and we 18send back music,” is the 19slogan used by Chávez who has built an orchestra that now tours the world, supporting acts like Metallica.

The music is classical and it is as beautiful as any you can hear. But more importantly, it has transformed the lives of the children of Cateura, allowing some to finish school and a number to go to university.

“I believe communities like Cateura are a reflection of the 20shortcomings of society,” Chávez told the BBC’s South America Correspondent Wyre Davies. “Consumerism, materialism, individualism and capitalism where money is 21the only thing that matters. In this world, the richest person can have more than the 10 poorest countries on earth. How did we get to this inequality? It results in a 22lack of opportunity. But you cannot throw people away like things. I believe that through the orchestra we can vindicate the people society has discarded.”

Based on a BBC Radio 4 report


1Wealth: riqueza

2Trash: basura

3Slum: favela

4Banks: orilla

5Sewage: lodos residuales

6Landfill: vertedero

7To stink: apestar

8Flooded: inundado

9Rubbish dump: vertedero

10To starve: morirse de hambre

11Nor: ni

12Oil drum: un tambor de petróleo

13Pipe: tubo

14Tin can: lata

15Heel: tacón

16Cutlery: cubiertos

17Send: enviar

18Send back: devolver

19Slogan: lema

20Shortcoming: defecto

21The only thing that matters: lo único que importa

22Lack: falta