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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

Young Ryan Webb making a difference: from Alstonville to Kenya

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Ryan Webb in Kenya. Photo supplied.

Ballina Shire Council’s Young Citizen of the Year is only nineteen, but has already done a lot for other people who are less fortunate, both close to home and on the other side of the world.

Ryan Webb completed year twelve at Emmanuel Anglican College in Ballina in 2019. For the last four years he’s been working at the Alstonville Adventist Retirement village, helping in the kitchen.

‘I really enjoy this job, and I love interacting with the residents when I can,’ said Mr Webb.

From 2017 to 2020 he also volunteered at the Five Loaves mobile soup kitchen in Ballina, which he says has grown a lot since its beginnings, and is always able to give a role to new helpers.

‘My involvement there included collecting left over food from supermarkets and bakeries and distributing to local people who are disadvantaged outside the ADRA [Adventist Development Relief Agency] Op Shop in Ballina,’ Mr Webb told The Echo.

‘We also have soup and buns and sometimes other savories as well. I really enjoy talking with the patrons and listening to some of their stories,’ he said.

‘These people come from various backgrounds and varying degrees of hardship. Some have temporary accommodation, others don’t have any. It has been a huge privilege to be able to help these people and just be there to listen to them and to support them through difficult periods in their life.’

Overseas volunteering

Man with leprosy in Nepal. Photo supplied.

Ryan Webb’s first overseas mission trip was to Nepal in 2014, working with the ADRA agency as part of a team of twenty.

‘This trip was organized by a group of volunteers from the Lismore Seventh-Day Adventist church,’ said Mr Webb.

‘We spent a week renovating roughly twenty living units in a leprous village, separate from the rest of the town. This involved scrubbing the dirt and soot from the walls and ceilings of the units, and then painting them, inside and out.

‘We also gave them some blankets and coats and danced with them on our last day, which was an amazing experience.’

Mr Webb remembers, ‘When the work was completed and we were about to leave the lepers lined up at the gate and gave us all flowers. I was blown away by the response.’

Ryan Webb has also volunteered in Africa. ‘In February 2020, I travelled to Kenya with a group of four, two of which were my cousins. We operated mobile health clinics in thirteen different locations and treated about 2,500 people.

‘We worked with a group of several Kenyan nurses who treated and diagnosed the patients. Our role was to distribute medication to the patients, what was written on their script.’

Vision thing

While in Kenya, Ryan Webb was also given the job of distributing glasses to the patients so they could read. ‘We took over several bags of second hand glasses from local optometrists in Australia, to give to them,’ he said.

Kids in Kenya. Photo supplied.

‘I would give them something to read and I would get them to try on a pair until they found one that suited them. I got such a buzz when they found the right pair and they were able to read, for some of them the first time in over ten years. They had such a big smile and it was just so nice to see their joy.

‘The local people where we stayed were just so friendly and welcoming, and they were very excited to see us.’

Mr Webb remembers, ‘A couple of times throughout our stay there I would go for a walk through the village, just to see what was out there and to see how some of them lived. And some people invited me from the road into their home and made me a meal.

‘I was just blown away by how friendly and hospitable they were to perfect strangers, it was a really cool experience,’ he said.

Ryan Webb with a friend in Kenya. Photo supplied.

‘Most of what they eat comes from their own gardens and from their own animals. One particular man was so kind to me, that he even gave me some of his produce to take back home with me.’

Mr Webb said he went to a women’s prison for the final clinic. ‘This was a totally new experience for me as I had never been to a prison before, let alone inside of one!

‘The women there are treated very poorly and there is no variety in their diet, so they are quite malnourished. So we gave each of them an orange to give them some vitamin C.’

Early start

Mr Webb says he started volunteering at the age of twelve. ‘My Dad and I travelled to the Burke and Wills “Dig Tree” In Central Australia. We spent about two weeks renovating an information centre building. This came about because my Dad was part of the Burke and Wills Historical Society.’

Ryan Webb said his Christian faith is his biggest motivation to volunteer his time and to help others. ‘I believe if we are able to do so, then we should always find ways to give back to the community.

‘I have been so blessed and so I want to use these blessings to bless others. Jesus lived a life of self-denial and went around helping the poor and healing the sick, and I want to live my life in the same way.’

Help yourself by helping others

Dancing in Nepal. Photo supplied.

Mr Webb says he’s discovered there’s happiness to be found when focusing on those living in poverty and hardship, instead of the self.

‘The best way to have more self-esteem is actually to forget yourself and get out there and serve the community, and be a blessing to others,’ he said.

Locally, he’s still involved with the Mental Health Support Group which was set up in Alstonville by Barbara and Peter Swain, and ‘always needs volunteers to help collect and deliver furniture’.

Mr Webb has recently started studying nursing. ‘My goal in the future is to become a Nurse Practitioner and work in rural Australia, as well as overseas for organisations such as Mercy Ships, Doctors without Borders, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service,’ he said.

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