In Cateura, Paraguay—a village built on a landfill—gancheros (people who do odd-jobs for a living) survive by sorting garbage and searching for things they can recycle or sell for cash. When a young man named Favio Chavez moves to Cateura to work on a recycling project, with the goal of educating the gancheros on better ways to collect and sort garbage, he is dismayed by what he encounters—every day 1,500 tons of garbage is offloaded, and the people breathe “a sea of stench” as they trudge through the filth. Favio knows people shouldn’t have to live in a place like this, and yet they do.
As Favio works among the gancheros, he befriends them and their children. And he worries about the children’s future.
Some evenings after working at the landfill, Favio conducts a youth orchestra in a nearby village. When his ganchero friends learn about his musical skills and his work with the youth, they attend a performance. They are deeply moved by the music and desire the same opportunities for their children. When they ask Favio if their children can be taught how to play instruments, he asserts that they can and offers to teach them.
Many children gather for instruction, and Favio offers them the use of his own guitars and violins. However, he doesn’t have enough instruments and he doesn’t want to turn any child away! Now, what will he do? As Favio ponders his dilemma, he notices his ganchero friend Colá, a wizard at carpentry, going about his work. Favio has an epiphany, which in the following years will transform the lives of the people of Cateura, and asks Colá if he can make instruments out of salvaged material found in the dump. And he does! Soon, each child has an instrument, and Favio calls his students the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura.
Based on a true story, this inspiring and informative picture book for young children captures both the dejection and victories of Favio and the people of Cateura. In an author’s note, Carmen Oliver writes, “Today, the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura pushes forward with scholarships and many humanitarian efforts. They work to make connections between different worlds and improve the lives of those who live and breathe and make music in Paraguay. As Favio has said, ‘Music is the bridge.’” (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)