Nineteen: The lives of Jakarta street vendors

In 2008, Mercy Corps in Indonesia invited Josh Estey and me to produce a book profiling the lives of nineteen street vendors in Jakarta, including a woman household head; a street child; a blind woman; an ex-political prisoner; a former union organizer; and a scavenger.

Book Review: The Last Wild Men of Borneo

Carl Hoffman tells the stories of two very different men who had practically nothing in common except their common obsession with the island of Borneo. The first was Bruno Manser, an heroic activist who lived in the forest with the Penan people, while the second was Joseph Palamieri, a buccaneer antique collector.

Community Theater for People with Disabilities

A group of people with disabilities from the villages around Jogja without any previous experience with theater came together to stage a performance. Through this process, they explore the meaning of disability and work together to express their hopes and aspirations.

Coffee farmers in harmony with the forest

Coffee farmers in North Tapanuli in North Sumatra learn how to get more about of their land by producing organic compost, insecticides and fertilizers and by inter-cropping with other plants, like sugar palm, that prevent erosion.

Tribal Ink: Writing stories on human skin

In Indonesia, until recently, tattoos have been seen as the mark of a criminal thug or primitive tribesman. But a few tattooists have gone out to study indigenous Indonesia’s tattoo traditions in Mentawai and elsewhere. And young Indonesians are embracing these traditions by getting tribal tattoos.

Merdeka! Climbing the greasy pole in Sentiong

This is the second time I’ve shot the guys in my kampung celebrating Indonesia’s Independence day by climbing a wooden pole which is smeared with discarded machine oil. At the top of the pole are some low value household items, brooms, water dispensers, plastic cups and plates, that kind of thing. If they get to the top and pull them down, they keep them.

The case of Gregorius Rato

Gregorius Rato was a whistle-blower who tried to expose corruption in Indonesia’s community empowerment program. He was punished severely for his act, being set up and sentenced to prison for corruption himself.

The Nat Pwe: A Festival of the Deprecated Spirit Lords of Burma

The Nat Pwe: A Festival of the Deprecated Spirit Lords of BurmaThe nat are a pantheon of spirits of powerful historical or semi-historical figures, usually royals, powerful rebels, or folk heroes, who experienced violent deaths that prevented their reincarnation and...

 Invisible People

Invisible People contains the stories of 53 poor, stigmatized and marginal Indonesians. It includes the stories of paraplegics; sex workers; landless peasants; transsexuals; widows, divorcees and abandoned women; sea-dwelling, semi-nomadic Bajau fishers and pirates; drug users in urban slums; Papuans living with HIV and dying of AIDS; beggars and others disabled and disfigured by leprosy. The stories were collected and transcribed by Irfan Kortschak. The book contains black and white images of the subjects and their communities by Poriaman Sitanggang. Invisible People was published by the Lontar Foundation on behalf of the PNPM Support Group.

Nineteen: The lives of Jakarta street vendors

 In 2008, Mercy Corps in Indonesia invited Josh Estey and Irfan to produce a book profiling the lives of nineteen street vendors in Jakarta. We started with a very broad working definition of what a “street vendor” was. Basically, we agreed that it was anyone selling goods or services from an informal outlet on the street, whether from fixed premises in a ramshackle stall or wandering as an itinerant. We deliberately looked for women household heads; street children; disabled vendors; people with criminal records; people involved in trash disposal. We included some vendors who lived in desperate poverty. There were others who were surprisingly rich. We wanted to show that Jakarta’s street vendors are a diverse bunch of people.


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Who is Irfan Kortschak?

I first came to Indonesia after I completed a degree in Indonesian area studies at the University of Melbourne, when I received an Indonesian government scholarship to study Javanese and performing arts in Solo, Central Java. Since then, I’ve traveled through every major region of Indonesia, working as a writer, editor, communications specialist, journalist and translator for development agencies, civil society organizations, media outlets, and business organizations. I’ve written a few books and numerous articles and been involved in the preparation of academic documents, research reports, fund raising proposals, corporate profiles, annual reports, advertising copy, literary writing, profiles and speeches. Somewhere a long the way, I picked up a Master’s degree in international and community development.


A while back, I applied for a project at an interesting NGO based in Bali and involved in environmental and social issues throughout the archipelago. As part of the application, they asked me to make a one-minute video explaining why I wanted to be involved. Here’s the video:


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