Paul Colombini

Paul Colombini (Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group): Paul graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a BA in art history and a BS in international business. He also taught English abroad for several years, first in Japan and then in China. At the time of his fellowship, Paul was studying for a Masters in international development at The American University in Washington, DC. After his fellowship, Paul wrote: "This experience helped me understand India and Indian society and also gave me a greater appreciation of the enormous difficulties of development and grassroots efforts in particular."

Getting Ready for India

18 May

It’s Saturday, May 18th. I’m now at home in Maryland, but in exactly one week I will board a plane for Delhi, India, where I will live and work as an Advocacy Project Fellow for the next three months.

It will not be my first time in India. I travelled through Northern India, Rajasthan and Goa two years ago in the summer of 2006, after my first year of teaching English in China. I was in Delhi just before the beginning of the Monsoon in June, around the same time as I will be arriving this year. I remember the heat was virtually unbearable; on several nights I awoke in a puddle of my own sweat because the electricity had failed and the ceiling fan stopped. But I also remember the amazing food, smiles, sights, sounds and sense of being in a place that is completely and utterly different from any other I’d been to then or since. India is not just another country; it’s another world, and I look forward to returning to it.

And I’m not going there as a tourist this time: I’m going to learn and to try to help. Living abroad in China and visiting many developing countries made me want to study International Development, and I am currently pursuing an MA in that subject at The American University in Washington, DC ( While studying at AU this past fall I met Amy Burrows, Fellowship Manager for the Advocacy Project, and was later interviewed (twice) and accepted as a 2008 Fellow. The Advocacy Project appealed to me from the beginning because of its emphasis on grassroots advocacy, which meshes with what I’ve been learning in my courses at AU about the need for more bottom-up initiatives in the developing world. Momentum within the development field is rapidly shifting from government-based development organizations towards private NGOs, many of them indigenous to the countries they work in. Through the Advocacy Project I hope to learn more about how such development NGOs work, specifically in India, which has a very large number of sophisticated NGOs.

The organization I will be working with in Delhi is called the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group ( Their mission is to help and advocate for the rights of informal waste recyclers: poor people who pick up garbage and sell it to be recycled. I saw waste recyclers at work everyday while I lived in China, and also in virtually every developing country I have visited. I feel a sense of great respect for them, because they perform a difficult and dirty job while providing an important service to society by both removing litter and making sure it is recycled. Yet in Delhi waste recyclers are increasingly shunned and their activities have been illegalized because they appear “unsightly” or “backward” in a society which is becoming increasingly conscious of how it appears to outsiders. My job will be to create a webpage called “A Site of Their Own” which will allow waste recyclers to post pictures and information about their lives on the internet. Hopefully the site will help people to recognize that waste recyclers are just people trying to make a living and that they are helping the city at the same time.

That’s basically what I’ll be doing in Delhi and why I’m doing it. Tomorrow is the first day of AP Fellows Training in Washington DC. The training will provide me with additional internet tools and ideas, and I want to be ready to soak it all in, so I’d better get some rest. I’ll post again when I arrive in Delhi. Have a great week and thanks for blogging in!

– Paul

Posted By Paul Colombini

Posted May 18th, 2008


  • Sylvia

    June 2, 2008



    Sounds like you are already taking in the funs of traveling abroad. It’s very unfortunate to hear you got sick, although it’s hopefully something you now got out of the way and will be cautious and maybe gained some resistance? I’ll keep reading on this summer and can’t wait to hear more about days and nights in India.

  • Julie

    July 10, 2008


    Congratulations on the project, hope it exceeds expectations. Everything you do will leave an imprint. I was enjoying hearing similar social experiences to my own in Delhi. The addiction to the country, happily, is permanent. All the best!

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