Cateura is a small slum in Paraguay, South America, built on a rubbish tip. Desperately poor, its villagers eke out a living by recycling and selling whatever they can find in the garbage. But from these unpromising conditions something beautiful has emerged – an orchestra.
Violins From Rubbish Tips
It started when one of Cateura’s residents found an old oven tray in the landfill. He took it home, hammered it into an hourglass shape, added a bent fork for a tailpiece and some wire for strings and turned that tray into a violin. Next he made a cello from an oil can with hairbrush handles for tuning pegs, then flutes and saxophones from old drainpipes with bottle tops and coins for keys. The result was the Cateura Recycled Orchestra which has gone on to lift many of the villages’ youth out of poverty. Hearing them play Mozart on these dented contraptions is a beautiful thing.
Symphonies From Slums
The orchestra’s director has a delightful way of describing what they do. “The world sends us garbage,” he says. “We send back music.” I think that’s a message for us too. While we may not face Cateura-level poverty, few of us get through life without suffering. It can be consoling to know the garbage in our lives can also be recycled into something good.
I’ve seen it happen. A few years ago Russell Hodge lost his right leg in a tragic motorcycle accident. As a result, he now runs camps that help teen amputees find camaraderie and self-esteem. Linda Watson spent decades trapped in a red-light underworld. She now runs a halfway house for girls coming off the street. When I met Janette at a retreat centre, I was astounded at her compassion towards people in pain. It turned out she’d had two emotional breakdowns in the past. Like Russell and Linda, her suffering had been recycled into something good.
Songs From Suffering
Saint Paul once said that God makes everything work for the good of those who love him. For me, this is an essential part of the equation. Our problems can be hard enough to face, let alone recycle, but a divine hand is ready to see our suffering be transformed.
Violins from rubbish tips. Symphonies from slums. Camps for amputees. Halfway homes. When the world sends them garbage, Cateura sends back music. It’s an empowering thing to know that your suffering can become a song.
This piece first aired on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2
Want More Inspiration Like this?
I explore the theme of recycling disappointment into service in depth in The Making of Us: Who We Can Become When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned, available in paperback, ebook and audiobook. In addition, I’m working a new gift book that will be out in September. Subscribe to my newsletter to ensure you hear about it first!