Columbia citizens lend hands, make difference

Singing for fun: RBHS alumnus Austin Kolb plays his guitar for young children in Rwanda. Photo provided by Austin Kolb.

Singing for fun: RBHS alumnus Austin Kolb plays his guitar for young children in Rwanda. Photo provided by Austin Kolb.

Nadav Gov-Ari

Singing for fun: RBHS alumnus Austin Kolb plays his guitar for young children in Rwanda. Photo provided by Austin Kolb. Photo provided by Austin Kolb

Austin Kolb and Ryan Rippel reassured multiple times that their current situation, studying in the United States, is just a pit stop on the long road to a better earth. Although Rippel and Kolb grew up in the same city, they went to different high schools, but today they share a common goal. Both have dedicated their lives to those in need. Kolb, a 2010 RBHS alumnus, and Rippel, a 1999 HHS alumnus, have spent their post-high school years donating their time to charity, philanthropy and community service. Both have pointed their careers toward community service as well.
Each started his foray into philanthropy in high school. Kolb went on a mission trip to Guatemala City during his sophomore year to Casa Bernabe, an orphanage.
“I did little jobs there, sweeping the floors, washing dishes, mopping and just making friends with the young kids and playing with them,” Kolb said. He said that while dedicating his time to the cause of others may be one of the hardest things he’s ever done, “getting that match to start your internal fire” is extremely important and will open up your mind to the giving of yourself.
From there, Kolb took an interest in helping others and made other mission trips to Rwanda, even returning a second time. He also did more work for non-profits in the U.S. Kolb traveled back to Rwanda and began at Excel School, where he helped teach English to young children.
“Rwanda is currently in the process of switching their national language from French to English,” Kolb said. “The funny thing about this is that most people in Rwanda speak the native language of Kinyarwanda. The school system would bring in Ugandan teachers who spoke French, while learning English and teaching English to Rwandan children who spoke Kinyarwanda. See the problem?”
Even with all the confusion, Kolb said the job that he did was simple, yet very important to the people there.
“Our basic job there was to be a middle ground between the teachers and kids, as well as help the teachers in their English learning process,” Kolb says. “I lived there for almost another three months and built a real community of friends to hang out with in my free time.”
Kolb currently lives in the United States, planning his future and how he can further serve communities. Rippel, however, a Harvard and Cambridge graduate, has been studying law at Harvard for the past few years in anticipation of an official public service position. While volunteering in India, he came across a community of people known as waste pickers who were victimized by a recent jurisdiction. He’s dedicated himself to be able to help them out.
“Across the world there are many people earning less than a few dollars a day trying to support their families. Waste pickers are among these individuals. They make their living by sorting through solid waste looking for plastics, cardboard and metal that can be recycled,” Rippel said. “They sell what they find to scrap shops and middlemen who then sell it to large wholesale recyclers.”
Waste pickers’ access to waste is at risk, however, because of court rulings suggesting that corporations should collect trash and not the waste pickers, who depend on this work.
“Unfortunately, these professional collectors usually take the trash right to the dump and don’t recycle,” Rippel said. “As a result, waste pickers are losing their rights to the trash and ultimately their livelihoods.”
Rippel is determined to see justice prevail, and the waste pickers’ relative livelihood restored, at least until there’s a better alternative.
Rippel believes starting out on one’s own philanthropic foray is not hard. He said service is possible, no matter what you do — just go out there and help someone out.
“I believe that whatever you do for a profession — whether it be business or politics, or journalism or working for a nonprofit — service can be part of it,” Rippel said. “Empathy gives us all a wonderful opportunity to commit ourselves to serving ends greater than ourselves. It’s at the core of citizenship in this country, and I believe it is an essential ingredient to a fulfilling life. These are lessons that I first learned growing up in Columbia.”