Mar 26, 2023 Last Updated 2:07 AM, Mar 22, 2023

Photo essay: Jakarta's youth use trash to shape their futures

Published: Mar 31, 2020
This article is part of a mini-series featuring the work of journalism students from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) who travelled to Indonesia in November 2019 as part of the Australian government's New Colombo Plan Mobility scheme

Aleisha McLaren and Alana Riley

Yoki is the workshop manager at Ffrash, a volunteer-run social enterprise within KDM, a not-for-profit organisation just outside Jakarta that houses and educates former street children. The workshop aims to counter the negative stigma about street children and associates them with violence, theft and drug use. At the Ffrash workshop, children spend a year learning how to transform recycled goods into homewares like glasses, clocks, stools and lamps. They also develop work ethic and social skills, Yoki explains.

While Indonesia has faced global scrutiny for its management of waste and recycling, the mentors and interns at Ffrash featured in this photo essay, are empowering themselves within the waste economy and striving to better society.

Waxyu, Dodi, Dion and Yoki work together five days a week

Waxyu (18), Dodi (17) and Dion (16) are interns with the Ffrash program in 2019, working under Yoki’s guidance to source, make and sell the products.

As of 2018, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, almost 17,000 children were living on the streets. But these numbers have slowly been dropping over the past few decades. There were 46,800 street children in 2005, almost double the current numbers, ministry figures show.

Yoki clears the clutter in Ffrash’s ‘mini-workshop’ space, to begin another day of work

Yoki was a KDM student himself once, so he knows what it’s like to live on the streets and what, now as an educator, is needed to gain the trust of teenagers. ‘You need to be their friend,’ he said. ‘If I work as a manager to them, they won’t feel friendly.’

Profits from the sale of products go back into materials and education expenses for those who graduate from the program. ‘We ask them what they want to do after this,’ Yoki said. ‘So, if they want to go to work or to take a course, the money goes back to what they want to do.’

Waxyu said he wants to become an air-conditioner technician once his internship is complete.

An upcycled clock made from plastic bottle caps being packaged and prepared for shipment

A popular upcycled product is the plastic clock, made from plastic bottle caps bought from the nearby Bantar Gebang landfill. ‘The garbage [there looks] like mountains, from far away. But when you go near, you can see it is trash,’ Yoki said.

The sheer size of Bantar Gebang is hard to capture, but reaches about 40 metres tall

Bantar Gebang has to accept thousands of tonnes of rubbish per day from the Jakarta area, said Deputy Minister for Human Resources, Science and Technology and Maritime Culture Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Investment, Safri Burhanuddin. The site is nearing capacity, although there are plans for projects to turn the waste into energy.

Pictured: Dido (17) cuts wine bottles into glasses before adding unique designs by using a sandblaster

Three designers have developed products for Ffrash since its inception in 2012, but the children sketch up their own designs as well. Over the years, designs have improved so all of the trash that is gathered can be used in some way.

Wine bottle heads are stored, ready to be fastened to wooden bases and turned into wine glasses

Cafes in Jakarta, expatriate neighbourhoods and embassies all contribute wine bottles. Blue bottles from Australia are a popular colour but difficult to find, Yoki told us.

Old designs saw the tops of wine bottles discarded, but Ffrash now have a policy to ensure no part of the reclaimed trash is wasted

As Ffrash has expanded they have begun creating ‘collections’ for families. One example is the ‘father and son’ glasses -- one holds a beer and the other can be filled with milk, then topped with a wooden lid holding cake or biscuits.

Yoki dusts off a hand-woven lampshade made from strips of discarded plastic

While cups and glasses are a relatively simple products to create, the interns also construct more intricate designs, such as woven lampshades. ‘We use the plastic material and stitch it by hand,’ Yoki said. ‘It’s very difficult to make.’

Children from the KDM compound come out to say hello

When asked what motivates him to work with street children, Yoki replied that as soon as they are part of KDM, they’re not street kids anymore. ‘I always say, “I am your brother and I am your friend. If you want anything, just ask, and if you have a problem, you can share with me."

‘I hope they can be good people, and that people can accept them as normal people,’ Yoki said, ‘because they have good character, skills, and because they’re ready for work.’

Aleisha McLaren ( and Alana Riley ( are journalism students from Queensland University of Technology and travelled to Indonesia with the support of the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan Mobility Scheme.

Inside Indonesia 139: Jan-Mar 2020

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