Madam Warsih, 38

ⓐ + ⓑ From left to right: Madam Warsih, 38; her husband, Rosid, 40; her younger daughter, Jumi, 16; her niece, 18 months; her older daughter, Lia, 19; and her son, Adi, 10.

Which part of Indonesia are you from?
I came from the borders between West Java and Central Java, called Indramayu. I came here ten years ago, since 1999. I have been a trash-picker for ten years already.

Why did you choose to come to Jakarta?
There was no employment for me in Indramayu. My whole family was depending on me for money. I then decided to come here as I saw hope in my son's education and success here [Jarkata].

Did you know what you wanted to work as when you came over?
When we came over, we already knew what we wanted to do. We only have brute strength to work with and trash picking is suitable for us. I originally wanted to work in Singapore as a maid, but unfortunately, my husband fell ill, so I stayed in Indonesia. And then I had my son, so I don't want to leave anymore.
And now?
My sister went to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid and she left her baby with my family. We have to take care of the baby now. She is only one-and-a-half years old.

Who else is there in your family?
My husband, Rosid, is 40 years old. I have two daughters, one 19-year-old and the other a 16-year-old. The 16-year-old, Jumi, just got married two months ago. Both she and her husband are staying with us. And my boy, Adi, is ten. And we have the baby staying with us too.

Tell us more about being a trash-picker. How much trash can you collect in a day?
My husband, daughter and me, we can collect 7kg of plastic in a week.

And how much money does it bring you?
Plastic bottles give me 2,000 rupiah [S$0.30] per kilogramme and disposable plastic cups gives 3000 rupiah [S$0.45] per kilogramme. Aswin pays us 4000 rupiah [S$0.60] per kilogramme for the detergent packaging.
Where do you usually collect the trash?
I walk around the different estates to find useful things from each household's trash bin. Everyday, my husband and I will also go to the private school nearby to help them clear their rubbish. We have been given special rights by the school; no one else can collect trash from there.

Why do both of you have special rights to this school?
The school trusts us. The school knows that we are honest people, so they trust us.

Does the school pay you for clearing their rubbish for them?
No. We will bring all the rubbish out to the field, and look for things we want, then we burn the rest.

What time do you start working?
I start from 5am till 7am. I then get an hour of rest before I continue work from 8am till 12pm for lunch. After that I will continue work all the way till 7pm before I head for home.

ⓒ + ⓓ Pondok Surya, the neighbourhood where Madam Warsih visits almost everyday on her rounds.


Sorting refuse at the private school.

You are a head trash-picker. Can you tell us what is a head trash-picker?
I used to be under another head trash-picker when I first started out. There were 26 of us under her. Later I separated myself from the group to try being a head-trash-picker on my own as the previous one was bad. I will become my own head trash-picker when I have the money.

Why was she bad?
Our payments for the trash we picked were often delayed. The old boss will not pay us our cash to us when we hand her the trash we picked, she only wrote us an IOU with the amount she owed us and we could only get cash from her when we really needed it.

Why do you need money to be a head trash-picker?
Because the old boss didn't pay us first. Sometimes, I would become the head trash-picker if I had the money to pay the trash-pickers working under me. I would pay them first when they gave me their trash.

After you separated from the old boss, were there any hard feelings between both of you?
No. I used to take care of her baby when I used to stay with her. So she did not hate me. And there is no rule about being the head trash-picker. We can sell the trash we collect to anyone. We don't have to sell to only one head trash-picker.

What other things do you need to do as a head trash-picker?
The other trash-pickers will put the trash they have collected outside my house. I will sort them out. For the plastics to be sold to Aswin [Plastic Works], I will cut and clean them. I usually do this once a week. It only takes a few hours. Then I will use the pushcart to transport the trash to Aswin's to sell to him. The pushcart is spoilt now, so I have asked the trash-pickers to sell the plastics to Aswin directly.

When don't the other trash-pickers sell the trash to Aswin themselves?
They are lazy to cut and clean the plastics, and to bring the plastics to Aswin themselves.

ⓕ + ⓖ The head trash-picker in her home; Madam Warsih used to work under her, and would bring items she has collected to her home for sorting. The mezzanine under the roof is rented out to the trash-pickers as sleeping quarters.

The only equipment Madam Warsih and her family uses to transport their items, is an old cart made out of scrap wood. At the time of this interview, the cart is damaged and is not in use.

What happened to the pushcart?
It is old. We made it ourselves. Sometimes we find wood from things people throw away and we use it to make the pushcart. My husband is good at making and fixing things. He fixes things as a side job too. We bought the wheels for 200,000 rupiahs [S$30.20] and made the pushcart. Now we need to find newer wood for it, but it is hard to find this. So now we just carry the trash by hand.

And yourself? Why do you want to be a head trash-picker then?
I want to be independent.

How many trash-pickers do you have under you?
Used to be about 26 people. But now it's only ten, because the rest have either gone back to their hometown to become farmers again or have moved to other places.

What about you? Do you want to return to your hometown someday?
No. I don't have a house in my hometown, so I wouldn't want to go back.
At what age do you think you will retire?
I don't know. If I have the money, I want to have a small shop to sell things. Everyday, I hope to find a lot of things that can sell for a lot of money. That is my motivation to pick more trash everyday. I want Adi to have a proper education, all the way till university. The Jakarta certificate is respected. I pray to God for blessings.

(At the roadside Madam Warsih sits down to rest.)
How long will you usually rest for?
Until my legs don't hurt anymore.

What happened to your legs?
My calves will hurt if I don't take my medicine.

What sort of medication are you taking? Have you been to the doctor?
No, I have never seen a doctor before. I go to the pharmacy and describe the symptoms to them. The medicine they give me works. I drink it every night so that I can work the next day.

ⓘ + ⓙ Jumi looking after her baby cousin at home, as the child's mother (Madam Warsih's sister) is working as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia.

How much does the medicine cost?
It is 10,000 rupiah [S$1.50] for ten days of medicine. No matter what, I always make sure I have at least 10,000 rupiah in case I need to buy the medicine, because without it, I cannot work. My husband is worse. If he doesn't take the medicine, he cannot walk at all. Sometimes we even have to carry him to bathe.

How long has it been like that?
About ten years ago, after I gave birth to Adi.

(At her house.)
How long have you been living here?

For a few months. This house is new.

How much do you pay for the rent?
300,000 rupiah [S$45.30] per month.

What are the monthly utilities bills?
Water is taken from the pump which the community shares. Electricity is about 100,000 rupiah [S$15.10] per month.

What is this ceiling made of?
The previous owner had no money to make a platform ceiling. So we use plastic sheets to cover the house.

Ms Lia, 19
Trash-picker and
Domestic Helper

What happens when it rains. Will water come into the house?
No, it is fine. We will change the plastic sheets once in a while.

(At the roadside.) What do you think of Aswin?
He is a very good man. He lent me money to buy textbooks for Adi. I am very grateful to know Aswin.

What textbooks did you need to buy?
The school says that we must buy textbooks every semester. Although education is supposed to be free, we have to pay 100,000 rupiah [S$15.10] for the textbooks each semester. I have paid Aswin the money, but that was last semester's books. This semester's textbooks have not been bought.

Are there old textbooks available?
They change the textbooks every year, so we cannot find old textbooks.
What does Adi do when he is not in school?
He likes to play football. He joined the school football club. We need to pay 45,000 rupiah [S$6.79] each month for that. At first we didn't allow him to join, because it was expensive, but he cried. So we let him go. The school football club also has a football jersey, but it is very expensive. It costs 55,000 rupiah [S$8.30]. We cannot afford that, so Adi will pick trash himself so that he can play football.

Adi dreams of playing football and to afford the cost of purchasing a jersey, he collects trash together with his mother.

ⓛ + ⓜ Lia and Madam Warsih on their rounds.

How long have you been in Jakarta?
I was here since I was eight years old.

What do you work as?
I work as a domestic helper everyday, from 7am to 9am. After that I will follow my mother to pick trash.

What do you do as a domestic helper?
I clean the house, wash and iron clothes for the five people in the family.

Is the work tough?
Yes, because I do everything by hand. They don't have any machines that I can use.

How much do you earn from being a domestic helper?
300,000 rupiah [S$45.30] a month.

Will you want more domestic jobs to do?
No, one is enough. My employers are very good to me. And I can earn more when I pick trash because sometimes, people will give us things, like clothes and food. Sometimes, people give money too.
But what about the dirt from the trash?
I am used to it. I used to find it dirty, but now I am okay with it.

Do you remember the first time you picked trash? What was it like?
I felt very ashamed. But after seeing my mother, I just want to make her happy, so I help. Now, I am used to it.

Do people call you names or say nasty things to you?
Sometimes people will scold me because they think that I am messing up the trash, but I am not. I always put the trash back nicely. We earn our own money, we don't steal.

What do you want to do in the future?
I want to continue what I am doing now.

Do you want to go back to Indramayu?
No, I see my future in Jakarta.

Do you think you want to go to back to school?
No, I studied until elementary 2 only. It has been too long. It is not my time to study any more.
What about your children in future?
I don't want my children to be like me. But if the circumstances do not allow, they will have to pick trash too. It is dirty, but they can wash their hands after they help.

Do you want to move out of the house?
In the future, I want to move out. I don't want to be a burden to my family. My sister is married. I am the only one who can help my parents earn money now.

Where do you want to stay if you move out?
Somewhere like the previous head trash-picker's place, where I can stay in a big house and don't need to pay rent. I just need to collect trash and sell to the previous head trash-picker and I don't need to worry about anything else.

Lia sees her future in Jakarta, and where she continues to be a trash-picker to support her family and dreams of a better life.


Ms Santi Pillang, 26

  Where are you from?
I come from Padang.

Where are you living now?
I live in Bukit Duri [Ciliwung] with my younger brother, Rio, who is 17.

How many people are there in your family?
I have two elder sisters and two younger brothers. Two of them are living in Chakung, one is in Bekasi.

When did you come to Ciliwung?
When I was 19 years old.

No, I came with my siblings. My parents stayed behind in Padang.

What brought you to Jakarta?
After I graduated from SMK [vocational high school], I had no job. So I decided to come to Jakarta to get a better life.

Did you already have a job offer or option in mind before coming here?
No. After arriving here, I was jobless for a year. Then I found a job to tend to a shop at Market Messer. After working for 14 months, I earned enough money to set up a business selling nasi padang in front of a shop.
Where did you stay when you first came?
We stayed at my aunt’s house at Kampong Pulo [opposite Bukit Duri]. But it was very crowded, so we moved out after a while. After getting work at the shop in Market Messer, I saved the money and rented a house at Bukit Duri. I have been staying here ever since.

How did you come to work at Sanggar Ciliwung [community centre belonging to local NGO Ciliwung Merdeka]?
The government wanted to widen the road, so they demolished the place where I was selling food. I became jobless again after that. Then one day I came to the Sanggar to join their national day celebrations, and that was when I met Sandyawan Sumardi [founder of Ciliwung Merdeka]. He heard about my situation and offered me a job here.

Were you given any compensation for the demolition?
No. I didn’t have an actual shop. I was selling in front of a shop.

Santi participates in one of the economic self-reliance programmes started by Ciliwung Merdeka, a local NGO. Under this pilot programme, villagers are taught skills to produce crafts and other goods at the community center in the village, Sanggar Ciliwung. Imparting these skills and assisting the villagers to reach domestic and overseas markets increases their means of livelihood.


Here, she demonstrates how scraps of batik are made into bags. The batik scraps are first laid out and assembled together in a sheet.

For strength and durability, different types of stitching are employed, which necessitates the use of different sewing machines.

Do you prefer your previous or current job?
I prefer to work here at the Sanggar. There is more social interaction and more meaningful profits.

How much do you earn a month?
500,000 rupiah [S$75.47].

Is that enough to get you by?
No. I need to pay 300,000 rupiah [S$45.28] for rental and Rp 200,000 rupiah [S$30.20] for Rio’s transport to school, so I don’t have enough money to pay for food.

So how do you earn the money for your food expenses?
I write articles for the newspaper and I receive 220,000 rupiah [S$33.20] for each article published.

How often do you submit articles?
Once a month.

What do you write about?
I write about life in Bukit Duri. I’m currently writing a novel too. I have about 90 pages done so far, and half of it has been edited.
What is your novel about?
I write about my life, my experiences from the time when I was young until now.

Do you have an editor?
No, I edit it myself. I’m not sure if I can get a publisher to accept my work.

How’s your novel progressing?
I can’t finish it yet, because I need to go to an internet café to type it out, and I will need to pay for that. So now I just write it out by hand.

So when do you write your novel?
I usually go home at 7pm, and I have time to write my novel. Sometimes I stay back to sew, sometimes I just stay around the Sanggar to talk to my friends. But I’m busy now, and I go home at around 9pm everyday. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I will write until morning.

Can we read your novel?
(embarrassed chuckle) In my articles, I write about life in Bukit Duri, sexual harassment of wives by their husbands and about marginalized children.
What was your article on the marginalized children about?
I met a 9 year old street boy who told me about his life. Street children are very willing to work, and are more street smart.

What is your view on the Anak Pinggiran (marginalized children)?
I think there is no difference between ‘normal’ children and marginalized children. All children have the same intelligence and willingness to learn.

What are your aspirations for the future?
I want to be a novelist. After graduating from high school, I passed the test to become a police woman, but my parents refused to pay for me to become a policewoman.

Why did you need to pay?
I don’t know. It’s a rule. We have to pay the money if we want to become a police officer.

How much was the fee?
25,000,000 rupiah [S$3773.60].

Once the sheet of batik is large enough, Santi trims it to the required shape and size. For this one, it will be used as part of a bag for notebook computers.

Santi works with her other villagers on the programme, for a more efficient production process.


The batik is attached to a piece of foam cushioning, and checked to ensure that its dimensions fit.

The batik is then sewed firmly to the foam cushioning with the aid of a sewing machine.

How do you feel about this community?
I am happy to be among these people. They help me widen my knowledge.

What are your views on the Economic Self-reliance Program?
I think it is good as it helps the jobless community. However, not many people are willing to take part in this program as no positive results can be seen yet.

How did you get involved in this program?
This is my responsibility as part of the staff in the Sanggar.

What are your thoughts on this program?
I hope that the products can sell well in the market, and it will become more popular with many people buying them.

What do you think about the threat of eviction facing the community?
Many are migrant workers with not much income. If they are evicted, they will not have any place to move to. Life will be hard for them, as they will not be able to earn money and will have no place to stay. It will be expensive for them to find a new place to rent.
Do you have any plans to deal with an eviction if it occurs?
No. I hope it won’t happen. I do not want to move as my neighbours are like my family.

What do you think of the annual flooding?
There are two sides to this incident, the positive and the negative. I think the positive side is the community spirit when such an incident occurs. You can see the unity as the people help each other to move to a safer place. The negative side is not being able to stay in our homes.

Do you think the flooding is a problem?
No problem. I like to swim in the water!

What about the losses which may occur from the flooding?
In the big flood of 2007, I lost everything. My television, and even my high school certificates. The only thing I had left were the clothes on my back.

What are your hopes for Rio?
I hope my family conditions can change, with Rio becoming more successful. He is 17 years old now.
How about your personal hopes for the future?
I hope to open a shop for the economic stability program. However, my primary focus now is to open an orphanage as I know how to accompany and work with children here. I want to run this orphanage with my own money and effort. My secondary focus will be to work on my novel, and become a novelist.

A black lining is sown to the insides of the bag.

Attaching the zipper.

The finished bag


Madam Sok Sahraid, 43
Farmer, and Community Organizer

  Tell us about yourself.
I’ve three children. My first daughter is 18 years old, my second daughter is 14 years old, and my youngest son is 12 years old.

Were you born in this village?
I am born in another commune of Kampong Chhnang Province. It is the Tekhod commune, at a village called Kod Sedau. But both Konleng Phe and Kod Sedau are under the same district of Roulipiel.

How long have you been living in this village?
Since 1997, when I delivered my second daughter.

What was the circumstance that led you to this village?
This village is the hometown of my husband.

According to the Cambodian custom, the husband moves in the wife’s home. What made you live with the husband in this case?
Because my husband has some land available for rice production, that’s why I decided to move here.

What are you working as now?
I’ve four different roles in the village! Firstly, I am a farmer. I produce rice in the farm. I also have some land for other crops such as corn, bean, pumpkin, and chilli. Secondly, I am the cashier of the savings group in the village. I am also the assistant of the village chief to help the villagers. Lastly, I work with Community Capacities for Development, a local NGO, as a community organizer.

As a cashier of the savings group, do you receive any pay?
No. It’s voluntary.

What is your main motivation in becoming the cashier of the saving group?
As I contribute to the project, I’m also helping my fellow villagers. Most members have trust in me as I document the accounts very clearly. I’ve heard of some members gossiping about me keeping some of the money for myself, but once I show them the accounts, they are convinced that I’m honest. As a cashier, I’ve to be very responsible. If I lose any money, I will have to make it up from my own pocket.

Mdm Sok Sahraid, at the home of the village chief.

Where do you learn your skills as a cashier?
I did not have any proper training but some NGO staff members came to the village and gave me some basic training on the roles and responsibilities of a cashier.

As community organizer, can you tell us what you do?
As a community organizer, I visit different villages to facilitate the formation of different savings groups. For example, there is the women savings group, the youth savings group; the kind of group depends on the villagers. The formation of such groups allows me to mobilize them easily to have meetings or workshops. During the meetings, we discuss things like the reasons why natural resources are being destroyed. I also educate them on laws such as the forestry law. Besides these, I also have a good relationship with the local authorities such as the village chief or commune chief. I bring the different villages together to form a network so they will be able to help each other when there is any trouble. During these meetings, we focus on women and encourage them to be part of such groups.
Do you face any problem in trying to organise the people?
Yes, I face such problems frequently. It also depends whether these people obtain resources directly from the forest. Some of them have businesses such as selling timber, so when I try to educate them on the importance of retaining natural resources such as trees, they retaliate by saying that it disrupts their source of income and it also doesn’t benefit them in any way.

How do you go about solving the problem?
In one village, there could be up to ten families that will not understand these problems. However, I’ll persist and repeatedly talk to these people by going directly to their homes.

Moving on to the assistant of the Village Chief, is this position paid or is it voluntary?
I get paid around 20,000 riel (S$6.30) per month from the government. This amount is not much and I’ve other commitments too.
What do you do as an assistant?
Assist the village chief on updating statistics of the village, and sometimes reporting information to the commune level.

Do you find yourself in situations where others refuse to cooperate with you?
There were cases when I raised issues that concerned the ladies in this village to the commune chief. Many of them are concerned about the development of the village with regards to sanitation. I try to raise issues brought up by other ladies from the village, but the village chief does not really give priority to these issues, as he does not raise them to the commune level. So, the village management team and I do feel disappointed with the village chief.

What do you do about it?
Advocacy! [Laughs] I’ll repeatedly raise the issue to the commune chief. And I’ve forgot to tell all of you about another occupation of mine! I am the focal person from the commune. At the commune level in each village, they select one focal person. The role of the focal person is to work for women and children, and raise issues to the commune level.
How influential is this focal person? Do people listen to this focal person?
Most of the time they do listen, as most cases concern domestic violence. In some domestic violence cases, we need to inform the local authorities like the police and at the same time I’ll follow up as well. For example, in some cases where the domestic violence becomes serious and the wife wants a divorce, my duty is to look for a lawyer for the lady.

What motivates you to fight for equal rights for women?
As the focal person at the commune level, I work in eight villages not just one village, for women and children. With regards to your question, I’ve found men are not concerned about women’s rights. They simply exert control over women and in some cases, beat them. Also, as a Khmer tradition, the elderly will remind their family or children who are recently married not to tell anyone about any problems they have in the family. After I received some training from the NGO, I pass on the knowledge about women’s rights to the eight villagers I work with. With time, the women began to talk about these issues more openly. This allows me to work with the women and tackle the problems. I can see that domestic violence has begun to decrease.

Mr Mao Sokhalay, 22
Primary School Teacher


Mr Mao Sohkalay, preparing for his classes.

Why did you choose to teach?
There are two reasons why I choose to teach. First is financial. My family has many children and my parents did not have sufficient money to allow me to study in the University. I needed to get a job as soon as possible to earn income to contribute back to the family. That is the reason why studying in a Pedagogy school (teacher training) was a better choice as I could graduate in just two years and get a job after. The second reason is I love the job as a teacher and I aspire to be a secondary school teacher in the future.

How long have you been here?
I have been teaching in this school in Konleng Phe for two years. In the coming academic year, I will assume the position as the head of school. The head of school is rotated yearly among the teachers. This is to allow teachers to have time to go back to their hometown to visit their families. The workload of the head of school is usually rather heavy.
What are the specific responsibilities of the head of school?
The head of school is usually responsible for the administrative work. He/She has to attend meetings with the Ministry of education. In addition, if there is a shortage of teachers in school, the head of school will need to teach. The head of school also attends meetings at the provincial level.

How do you plan to move from a primary school teacher to a secondary school teacher?
I will need to save from the salary I am earning now to further my studies in the University before I am qualified to be a secondary school teacher. Another path will be to take the government exam and if I pass, I will only need to study for another two years to become a secondary school teacher. This path is also a cheaper alternative than studying in the private school.

How much do you earn as a teacher?
170,000 riel per month, roughly equivalent to US$40 (S$53) per month.


The school where Mr Mao Sohkalay works.

Students assemble every morning before classes.

Is this the standard salary for teachers throughout Cambodia?
It is very difficult to compare. For a teacher who is under probation, this is the salary he/she will get. Only when a teacher becomes a permanent teacher after about two years, the salary will then increase to US$50 (S$67) per month.

You live in Kampong Chhnang town. Where do you stay during school term?
We live in the school. There is a small house on the school ground where teachers live. Some teachers stay in the office. We cook here as well.

There are no toilet facilities in the school. How do you bathe and use the toilet?
We go to the forest.

Do you prefer to teach in the town or village?
I know of a teacher who submitted documents to the Ministry of Education to request for a change of school but no avail. So even if I want to change, it will not be easy. Besides, to change school with another teacher will require some money. I would rather save the money and use it in the future to further my studies.
Coming to the village to teach requires you to take a boat. Is your transport cost compensated for by the Ministry of Education?
No, it’s not. We pay using our own salary.

Do you have enough money?
No. But for village schools that are far away from the town, the Ministry of Education allocates a sum of money to each school to be used by teachers for buying teaching materials, transport and other personal expenses.

Is the extra allowance sufficient?
All we can do is to ensure we spend within the budget. With limited budget, we will need to reduce our expenses, for example, to reduce the number of trips back home.

How do you usually spend your salary?
Daily food expenses are about 3,000 riel (S$0.94) per day; maintenance of bike is US$15 (S$20) per month, Grocery and others items are about 15,000 riel (S$4.72) per month. As for the phone credit, it will depend on whether we have extra cash for the month. If we have no more budget, we can use as little as US$2 (S$2.70) per month.

The students come from several villages around Konleng Phe, as this is the only school in this remote area.

Education is crucial for those seeking to break out of the poverty trap, and some families even sell whatever little material assets they possess in order to finance their education for their children.

Going back to the school, can you explain its organization structure?
The school is made up of a head of the school at the top and four teachers below. Different teachers have different responsibilities. The head of the school is involved in decision making, as well as teaching. Some teachers will be involved in managing the Priority Budget provided by the Ministry. This budget is generally used for the development of the school, maintenance, and purchasing of materials for school usage.

Can you give us more details on the Priority Budget?
The Priority Budget is divided into two components. One is called the support budget which is the same for all schools in Cambodia and the other is calculated based on the number of students in the school. With every student, the Ministry provides 7,000 riel (S$2.20). Our school currently has about 220 students.
Is this amount of money sufficient for running the school?
We have already come up with a detailed budget for the sum of money. Strictly speaking, it is not sufficient. The budget does not include buying books for the students. They are for purchasing teaching materials for the school only. However, we will allocate a small part of the money to buy books for them on the 1st of June, our children’s day, to encourage them to study.

What are the subjects taught in school?
There are four subjects. Khmer, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science.

How many students are there in each class?
34 to 45.

Do all the children in the village get a chance to attend school?
Yes. Some of the families even sell their assets to ensure their children come to school. But there are also children who have the chance but do not want to come to school.

What is the average number of children who move on to the secondary school after completing grade 6?
About 75%.
Do the children go to the town for the secondary level?
MS: It depends. If the students have relatives living in the town, they are most likely to attend school there. However, if they have relatives living in another village where there is a secondary school, then the students will attend the school there.

What improvements do you want to see in the school?
Currently, I am liaising with this organization called International Relief and Development (international NGO) to sponsor of food for the students, snacks or breakfast. I am also working with parents to set up food stalls in the school. I also hope to install fans, toilets and a water system in the school. The water system can be a pumping well, with water filters so that the students have access to clean water, or a rainwater catchment system. I also hope that there are more learning materials for the students.

the sustainable shop

The Sustainable Shop adopts the concept and form of a retail shop to provide a context for a conversation about people, places, livelihood, sustainability and enterprise. As a shop, it sells real objects with the aim, like any retail business, of making profits. But it has, obviously, other objectives. It buys goods directly from the producer or the maker. There are the social entrepreneur who employs the urban poor in Jakarta to make recycled plastic products, and artists and designers invited to create and sell their works while supporting a social cause. All profits from the sale of the goods will be channelled towards subsistence communities in search of alternative means of livelihood. However, there is no guarantee that the items will sell or profits made at the end of the day. The retail shop has, thus, been appropriated to question the mechanics and priorities of an economic system that is market driven.

The Sustainable Shop is also more than a retail shop; it is an art exhibition using a popular word these days—sustainable. After all, what is a sustainable shop? The name for the shop and the exhibition is used deliberately to provoke the question—sustainable for what or for whom? Sustainable development is a complex subject, difficult to define as an equation of economic dollars and sense with the quality of life, both human and non-human that also includes the environment. The exhibition is, ultimately, a reflection of what the two words really mean, sustainable and development.
The exhibition adopts three Singapore Management University (SMU) community engagement/social enterprise projects to present the themes of sustainable development. The student-led-and-organised projects supported by SMU’s Office of Student Life are: an ecotourism project in Konleng Phe, a fishing village in Cambodia; an economic self-reliance enterprise for the urban poor in Jakarta, Indonesia; and a community paper-making cooperative in Sikkim, India. The exhibition, as a retail shop, will also be selling products such as bags and accessories made from recycled plastic collected by the trash pickers of Jakarta. In addition, artists and designers from Lasalle College of the Arts have been invited to create merchandise from recycled plastic, batik cloth and the Sikkim hand-made paper. Most of the proceeds from the sale, and the design ideas if suitable, will be channelled towards the three SMU projects for their on-going efforts at building a sustainable social enterprise for the local communities. The Sustainable Shop marks SMU’s 10th anniversary and begins a new chapter for its Community Engagement programmes, seeking questions for the future ahead.
Curated by
Shirley Soh and Brendan Goh

Research and interviews
Aaron Cheong, Daphne Cheong, Alex Fong, Heng Xiangle, Huang Jirong, Nicole Lee, Margaret Lee, Tommi Lew, Lin Wei Jian, Neoh Yew Kiat, Sheena Ng, Png Mei Jiao, Soy Bunnath, Tan Shi Yun, Xavier Tan, Thou Reaksmey and Ivan Toh

Video documentary
Bernice Teo, Denise Woo, Talisa Kaur Dhaliwal, Timothy Khoo and Lin Wei Jian

Produced by
Office of Student Life, Lee Sok Yuen, Edivita Ong and Jacqueline Tan

With support and images from
Projects 2C, Aphireak and Argali

Exhibition documentation by
Hong Hua Zheng

Data obtained from the United Nations Human Development Reports and the World Bank. Images of Borong-Polok, Ciliwung, Ciledug and Konleng Phe obtained from Google Earth, and vector maps from Wikipedia.