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Meet the young environmentalist sending children to school in Indonesia

Joseph Wijaya set up his recycling initiative in March 2023
Joseph Wijaya set up his recycling initiative in March 2023 Copyright Jack Lawes
Copyright Jack Lawes
By Sharifah Fadhilah AlshahabTamara Davidson
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In partnership with Media City, Qatar. Poverty remains a stumbling block that prevents many Indonesian children from going to school. One 11-year-old is determined to change that. He does so while protecting the environment too.

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

The tropical island of Bali is famous for its rich culture and stunning natural beauty. The tiny province is a huge attraction for international tourists keen to explore the lush green mountains, magnificent beaches, vast rice fields and enchanting temples. However, the beauty spot is marred by trash problems and is in desperate need of infrastructure or a garbage collection system put in place.

"The downside is there's loads of plastic everywhere," Joseph Wijaya tells SCENES.

Jack Lawes
Like many places around the world, plastic pollution plagues the island of BaliJack Lawes

The 11-year-old Bali native doesn't just observe; he intervenes. In 2022, he set up Joseph Recycling, an initiative offering weekly plastic waste pick-up services in different parts of Bali.

"I have almost 100 clients. I just put a recycling bin there, they put in the recycling, I collect it," Joseph explains.

Joseph Recycling's clients segregate recyclable waste into large cloth bags. Joseph says his storage space is full of the trash he collects from restaurants, hotels and domestic homes.

Being part of the solution

Jack Lawes
Joseph melts bottle caps to turn into keyrings to sell at eco festivalsJack Lawes

With the help of his parents and some friends, the waste is sorted and sold to Java, an island to the west of Bali. The payment goes towards sending underprivileged children to school. Joseph came up with the idea while playing with his friends at the beach.

"They were collecting recycling to sell," Joseph recalls, "mostly cables because it's the most expensive kind of recycling."

Before the pandemic brought tourism to a screeching halt, disadvantaged children were often seen selling trinkets like bracelets to holidaymakers. Several of Joseph's friends turned to other means to supplement their household income or to buy themselves snacks.

A heart of gold

"After a while, I thought it was unfair that they had to collect stuff to survive. I felt bad for them. They couldn't go to school because they had money issues," Joseph says.

Jack Lawes
Joseph pays the school fees for children at an orphanage with the money he makes from recyclingJack Lawes

According to Joseph, a year of schooling costs about $400 per child. He has paid for over 20 children, mostly from an orphanage he frequently visits.

"Even before I started this project, I would go to the orphanage, and my mom and dad would usually buy lots of food and stuff they needed and bring it there. And we would just play there for a bit," says Joseph.

His aspirations for these children did not stop there. Joseph makes keyrings from bottle caps to boost his earnings and sells them at Sunday markets or eco festivals.

Using a panini press, Joseph melts bottle caps of various colours and mixes them to get a marble design. He then cuts them into different shapes with a cookie cutter and attaches them to the links and split rings.

A role model

Joseph always aims to do good in the world, and many climate change champions rally in support of him.

Dada Bacudo, a climate change expert and senior advisor to the United Nations, saw the potential in Joseph Recycling from the start.

"From the very first moment I heard of Joseph's project, I knew that this project is going to create an impact because it's a project by a child," Dada told SCENES.

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Jack Lawes
Joseph participates at eco festivals and collaborates with like-minded initiatives to spread conservationJack Lawes

Eco-entrepreneur Mora Prima Siregar is thrilled to see that Joseph is eager to be part of the solution for pressing environmental and social issues.

Mora believes Joseph is a role model and will encourage the younger generation to care for the environment.

"Thanks to people like Joseph, we see changes in Bali," the executive director of Mudfish No Plastic notes. Mora's non-governmental organisation is committed to educating youths and local communities to reduce single-use plastic.

Over time Joseph has been more active in public spaces and often sets up booths at eco festivals and shares fun facts about the environment. He also partners with other like-minded initiatives and spreads the importance of environmental conservation.

"I love watching and seeing Joseph's evolution and growth," says Dada.

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Work hard, play hard

Jack Lawes
In the future, Joseph hopes to expand his recycling business so that he can pay for more children to go to schoolJack Lawes

For Joseph, the journey has been a learning curve. He advises other budding young environmentalists to start from zero and continue picking up knowledge - and plastic - along the way.

"And also try to have fun," the young environmentalist added.

Joseph dreams of having more clients participate in his weekly pick-up service and having the proper machines to do his work. He hopes that the fruits of his labour will help all the children in Bali to go to school.

Additional sources • Jack Lawes

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