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Office of Merit Awards

Office of Merit Awards

Student Success Story

One Man's Garbage…

By Sally Acharya

Paul Colombini

Paul Colombini, SIS/MA '09, in New Delhi, India. Photo by Mackenzie Berg.

Some people go to New Delhi for the sights. Paul Colombini '09 went for the garbage.

Armed with a video camera and a computer for blogging, the School of International Service master's student spent his summer with impoverished waste pickers who scour the streets and trash dumps of the sprawling Indian capital for anything that can be recycled.

He ended up impressed by their resiliency and efficient recycling work and dismayed by current efforts to ban the practice and delegate trash collection to businesses that will dump it in landfills.

Others can meet the waste pickers, too, thanks to the film he made and posted on YouTube. His blog entries are posted on the site of the Advocacy Project, the organization that selected him as a Peace Fellow and sent him to work India’s Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, a nonprofit that assists the waste pickers.

What helped him land the competitive fellowship at the Advocacy Project? One asset is experience. Colombini studied abroad in Rome and taught English in Japan and China for three years after earning his bachelor’s degree in art history.

“I think it helps to be someone who, when you get to a developing country, it’s not the first time you’ve done it,” says Colombini, who had traveled in India previously. He knew the challenges and felt confident he’d love his work there as a result.

Next on his agenda: Applying for a fellowship to study Hindi intensively, so he can write a master’s thesis on the waste pickers whose stories moved him.