Part of our work as peacemakers is to properly situate ourselves in a web of life. We are creatures in a vast, brilliant and complex ecosystem called not to dominate, but to live with in harmonious relationship. Children often seem naturally drawn to animals and nature, with an inherent ability to walk gently on the green earth. As they grow, there are many wonderful books to nurture their instincts toward ecological peace. One of these books is Ada’s Violin.
Ada is a small girl who loves the sound of the violin. She lives in a town in Paraguay that houses a large landfill. Her grandmother is a recycler who digs through the garbage looking for cardboard and aluminum to turn in for money. Ada’s music teacher, Señor Chavez, teaches the kids of the town to turn discarded items into instruments. Water pipes become flutes and packing crates become guitars. Ada’s violin is made out of an old paint can, an aluminum backing tray, a fork and pieces of wooden crates. Worthless items to some become invaluable to her.
Ada’s music class practices outside and after months of rehearsal, they become the recycled orchestra. Their music lifts the spirits of the folks in the town. Ada becomes first violin at age twelve, and eventually they travel to other cities and countries to perform. Ada learns to look at trash and hear music. In reimagining discarded items as tools to create beauty, she finds dignity in herself.
Recycling as an Act of Peace
Ellie: My five-year-old son told us he wanted to play the violin when he was three. He’d sit and listen to classical music and could pick the sound of the violin out at that tender age. When he was still asking to start violin lessons at age four, we said yes. Sometimes the instrument chooses you. Thanks to books like Ada’s Violin, he is also very concerned about the environment. The other day he told me he loves the world and wants to help heal it. He went on, “I know I can do a lot as a kid to be eco, but when I am an adult, I think I want to be governor so I can make sure our rules protect Earth.”
When we are out, my son picks up any trash he sees and brings it home. Although it would be easy for me to recycle or properly dispose of these items and commend him for picking up litter, I encourage him to imagine how we can use them for something else. Looking at an object a second time with fresh eyes supports the environment. As creatures, learning to live in peace with nature is paramount. The reimagining also engages a muscle necessary for other peace work. To build a more beautiful society, we have to be able to imagine things not as they are, but as they could be. Children like Ada inspire us to look again. Where some see trash there is music if we choose to look and listen with our hearts wide open.
If you’d like to learn more about Ada and her violin, watch the 60 Minutes bit on Ada’s Recycled Orchestra.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and The Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon is another inspiring picture book that can spark the imaginations of young people who want to heal the earth. In Isatou’s town, the goats were starting to eat the littered plastic bags and get sick. She collected and cleaned plastic bags, cut them into strips, turned them into yarn, and made purses out of them to sell in the village. It is another example of turning dangerous trash into something useful, so everyone wins! With older kids, try it yourself! Collect plastic bags and watch this video to learn how to turn plastic bags into bed mats! Make bed mats out of used plastic bags.
When was a time you reimagined trash as treasure? Sometimes it just takes a little practice to look at thing with new eyes. Try a few of these with your family or students: “20 Ideas to Turn Trash into Treasure.”
When you think of the world not as it is but as it could be, what do you see? Ask the children in your life what their vision for a peaceful world is and help them take steps toward ushering their re-imagined world into reality.
For each Peace-ology post, Caren and Ellie partner to learn and explore the meaning of peace by talking and listening with each other. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and children, please share your comments here, or visit our websites.