Meet farmer and activist Bagus and his Kendeng Squad, who use punk rock to highlight the environmental destruction to the Kendeng Mountains in Indonesia. The mountains, home to karst and limestone deposits, are shrinking while operations continue mining cement for profit. Backed by the state and international investors, Indonesia’s largest cement companies began detonating mountains to mine limestone in the early 2010’s. Since then, the Kendeng mountains have become a center of conflict, giving birth to countless struggles of land ownership. From protests to punk bands, people are standing up to fight against what is happening in their home. Some have gone so far as to pour cement on their feet, in order to hold President Jokowi accountable for allowing Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises to destroy their mountains. Kendeng Squadwrite and perform songs about preserving their natural environment with songs like ‘Berani Bertani’ (Dare to Farm). Their message: This is ‘the farming city’, not ‘the industrial city’. Today, locals like Bagus question the Indonesian government’s loyalty, while they continue to give mining permits and build factories, bulldozing mountains in the process.
In the 1960s, the South Korean government began encouraging foreign women to come to Korea and marry rural bachelors after Korean women had fled the countryside for city jobs. Fe Calo and her sister-in-law, Marilou Quitiquit, are among over 100,000 estimated Filipina “marriage migrants” who have moved to Korea since then, following an industry of wedding brokers and policies in both countries facilitating migrants to raise families in Korea. Often, the women arrive without knowing the challenges that await them in a foreign land. Luckily for Fe, Marilou lives nearby in their remote village Ttangkkeut (“End of the Earth”) at the southernmost part of the Korean peninsula. With her husband Marilou grows the Filipino produce that Fe missed so dearly when she first left home and sells it to a wide network of Filipino-Korean multicultural - or “damunhwa” - families living throughout Korea. Among the village’s 5,906 residents, half the children now share Filipino ancestry. While “damunhwa” kids still face bullying and dismissal, the brilliant and resilient Filipino-Korean youth are undeniably part of Korea’s next generation. This story was supported in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Graphic designer Jeje lives in Jakarta and identifies as trans. As a child, when she was unsure of what to draw, she naturally began painting the feminine figure. She says she has to explain to people that she had a good upbringing and nothing happened to her. “I have always been this way.” She says today, representation exists beyond the field of arts–in sectors like healthcare and even politics. Government programs in Indonesia assist trans people in getting official ID's, health insurance, and bank accounts. But in 2020, the government began drafting new laws that will criminalize the trans community for existing. And in 2019, the Indonesian parliament proposed revisiting a criminal code that would make any relationship outside of the heterosexual traditional marriage illegal. Here's how Indonesian artists like Jeje are responding, and how activists like Shinta Ratri and Kusama Ayu for paving the way for more people to fight for trans rights.
The Vietnam War left over 800,000 mines that have killed and injured over 100,000 Vietnamese people after the war ended. An all-female team through Project RENEW, has taken on detonating bombs in Quang Tri province, where 80% of the land is riddled with mines. Trinh Thi Hong Tham is the leader of this emergency response team. As a child, she would hear bombs going off, and witnessed people dying long after war was over. It left her traumatized, as well as determined to make her homeland safer. Project RENEW has completed over 1,000 missions today using strategic surveying, as well as relying on their own courage. Tham feels proud of the work she is doing to keep her hometown safer, regardless of how dangerous it is, and her family feels the same.
Wenfang is a fashion content creator in Northwest China, who believes beauty should be free and not engraved by gender. His work is pushing boundaries in a village where splashy outfits and makeup will have you bullied and labeled as improper. To avoid harassment, isolated rural areas like a graveyard became the safest environments for Wenfang to create. Inspired by Chinese traditional style, Wenfang is known for color matching, costume, and set dressing–taking high fashion and incorporating it into daily life. One of his clear messages is: “If it looks good, why does it need a gender?” He wants people to know there’s nothing wrong with looking how you like, regardless of what others think. And as someone who has plenty of people on the internet cursing his ancestors, Wenfang explains that knowing yourself is the only antidote. Wenfeng only started taking these pictures after his mother passed away: he describes how much she had sacrificed her life for others. “If you have an idea, go ahead and do it. Don’t regret anything.” Today, Wenfang is working on an environmental theme, expressing through fashion how many things from his childhood no longer exist.
Influential people, including local counsel, mayors, and police, are stealing 40% of Karachi’s water and pocketing 50 billion rupees annually, through a system built on bribing leaders. Pakistan’s Chief Minister has created a task force to combat the water theft that has crept up in response. But people are skeptical it’ll take over from what is now a very powerful water mafia. Karachi’s water mafia independently (and illegally) extract water to supply neighborhoods in need and to irrigate crops to feed the people. But, the water is polluted and untested, and people are dying. However, their other option, to rely on leaders, will leave them dead, because they’re the ones enabling this system. Karachi is one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia, and has always had an issue getting water. The reason water operations have become so lucrative is because the water isn’t distributed evenly, and everyone needs it. But there’s consequences to an unregulated system: organized networks are extracting unlimited amounts of water, destabilizing the ground and leaving sinkholes in their wake.