Retno's Refusal

Imagine mountains of stuff. Close your eyes and see the piles and piles upon more piles of all the stuff people have no use for anymore: baskets, furniture pieces, rags, scraps, rotting food, containers, twisted metal and just about any conceivable left over of consumerism. See the little children scurrying about, up and down the mountainous heaps like ants? They are indeed like ants working, picking and sorting through other people’s trash. They balance their finds on their little heads and backs trekking them to shanties lining valleys of yet more trash. They deposit their loads at the their shanty- home door, turn and head back to do it again and again.

This is the landfill of Jakarta, Indonesia, the 13th most populated city in the world. More than 10 million people live here creating 2.2 million tons of trash every year. And the image you just saw with your eyes closed is the every-day life of trash pickers.

Now imagine yourself driving around your home in America. See the landfill? I doubt it, or if you do, you barely acknowledge its existence in your thoughts. It is just a big hill, green in spring, perhaps even spotted with wildflowers here and there. No children, no people at all are scrounging about, eking out some meager toss-away that might earn a dollar or two – pocket change for us, a day’s wages for a picker. Our landfills are worked for the betterment of our environment. They are clean, our communities unburdened by disease and shanties, filth and waste.

Told by Denton filmmakers Susan Davis and Jennifer Batchelder, this Thin Line short is the story of Retno, a woman with a dream to raise her country’s standards, educate her people to hope and do for the sake of their land and, ultimately the planet. XSProject is her dream in motion. Her non-profit employs the trash picking community thousands large to expand their sorting to include items they used to pass by like discarded product containers. These are carefully processed, repurposed and resold. It is recycling that creates revenue to send picker children to school, provide medical care, increase individual family resources, and reduce waste all at the same time.

To Retno, the landfills of Indonesia are the earth. And the landfills of America are heaven. She is passionate about the three “R’s” of responsible waste management: reduce, recycle, and reuse. But she believes the three are incomplete for Indonesia. There is a first step, and that is to refuse. She believes education will lead to refusal of the existing paradigm and acceptance that it takes each person to make a difference for all.

The XSProject  motto is “Trash transferred. Lives changed.” It is driven by the power of vision that sees beyond overwhelming challenge to what can be. How much we have in America!   My take away from the film is my own refusal to not forget and appreciate our realization of Retno’s vision. Someone here once took Retno’s journey and left sparkling-in-comparison America with thousands working diligently to keep it this way. My hope is that Indonesia will have the same someday with Retno to thank for it.

Retno's Refusal will be playing at Thin Line Fest on Sunday, February 22 at 8:15 p.m. at the historic Campus Theatre.