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The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) recently announced the awardees for the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA). The official awarding ceremony typically occurs sometime in fall. We will keep an eye out for that later this year. The 2020 SOSA Winners and Honorable Mention Awardees are as follows:
AFRICAN AFFAIRS: Michelle Collett (Libreville, Gabon):
Michelle advanced the goals of environmental protection and awareness both inside and outside the Mission. To protect sea turtles and their habitats, she organized a group of volunteers to regularly patrol the local beach every day during the nesting season of September to March. Michelle arranged training from the Wildlife Conservation Society for her volunteers and set up communication between guards and residents of local homes and businesses to inform them of the volunteer conservation efforts and to gather their firsthand information of beach wildlife nighttime activities. She also acted as a liaison with the federal government environmental agency, a trash company, a recycling company, and schools to organize beach trash cleanups. In addition, Michelle coordinated a speaker program at a local military English school, providing native English speakers to make presentations and grade the students’ final presentations. During her three years in Gabon, through church, school, and community events, Michelle volunteered as a soccer coach, music instructor, choir director, and drama teacher. Additionally, Michelle won the J. Kirby Simon grant to install a well, build bathrooms, and construct water storage for an orphanage and children’s shelter whose residents were using the same stream for bathing, drinking, and waste disposal. Finally, Michelle played a pivotal role in helping family members in the Mission community stay informed about local, national and State Department updates during the early days of COVID-19.
EAST ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: Jane Thompson (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Drawing on her experience in early childhood education, Jane created and presented numerous programs at the international school and local Malaysian schools aimed at children with special needs. Topics included sleep, brain development, parenting skills and setting positive boundaries. She helped organize an Embassy program on autism and rare medical conditions to raise awareness and highlight the work of Malaysian NGOs. Jane wrote and implemented grant proposals through the Simon Kirby Trust to provide resources for refugees. With a team of fellow volunteers, Jane created play-based learning kits and first aid kits to distribute to refugee mothers and provided first aid training to young refugee families. She further volunteers with UNHCR to improve training programs for refugee women on education, hygiene and domestic violence. During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Jane coordinated numerous activities to maintain community morale, including online yoga classes, virtual Embassy trivia nights, and virtual story time for children. She also set up a virtual children’s town hall to answer young children’s questions about the lockdown.
EUROPE AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS: Mikell Reed Carroll (Zagreb, Croatia)
Mikell volunteered with the agency Refugee Aid Serbia, through one of its facilities, The Workshop, a place that provides hope to refugees through education and recreation. Volunteers there teach English, Serbian, German, French and math. They also offer special outings and workshops on music, art, science and other subjects, open to all ages. Mikell led donation drives in 2017 and 2019; for items desperately needed by refugees at the camps and for educational materials for The Workshop. She collected and personally delivered more than $10,000 USD in donations of clothing, educational materials, toys, books and winter items. A number of the winter items were hand knit by a group of senior citizens in Mikell’s hometown, at a senior center where she has volunteered for nearly a decade. She told them about the project and asked them to knit children’s winter hats, mittens, scarves and blankets, and they produced hundreds of handmade items that helped to keep refugee children in the Western Balkans warm.
NEAR EASTERN AFFAIRS: Kimberly Arsenault (Amman, Jordan)
Kimberly volunteered for 20 hours each week with the Hope Workshop, a Collateral Repair Project, which is a craft collective providing refugee women (Iraqis, Syrian, Yemeni and in-need Jordanian women) the space to collaborate, create and socialize while earning additional income for their households. In 2019, she raised approximately $20,000 for Hope, helping with sales and inventory control at local craft bazaars. Kimberly is also highly active within the Embassy community. She organized a soccer program for 50 embassy children ages 5-14, and arranged games with a local soccer league, as well as an adult tournament that brought together 70 Embassy players. Kimberly assists her post’s Community Liaison Office with initiatives such as art events and game nights. Kimberly also founded a parents’ chat group to keep Embassy parents informed and providing a place to ask questions.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIAN AFFAIRS: Brendan Melchiorri (Islamabad, Pakistan)
As a volunteer, Brendan took responsibility for a four-month-long initiative to raise morale and increase team spirit at post. He created the Consular Cup, a series of innovative competitions inspired by the Hogwarts Houses in the Harry Potter book series. With participants sorted into one of four teams based on a personality quiz designed by Brendan, over 120 Foreign Service personnel and local staff from nearly all sections of the Embassy joined together to win points in dozens of events, including volleyball matches, trivia nights, dodgeball tournaments, art contests, crossword puzzles, and kickball games. Participants also earned points for hosting their own competitions, inspiring members of the community to showcase their own unique talents. The Consular Cup significantly improved overall morale at a critical-threat post with over 1000 employees and generated camaraderie between the many different offices of the Embassy. Participants are now continuing the initiative by leading their own events, amplifying Brendan’s morale building efforts and underscoring the sustainable nature of the project.
Megan Johnson (Islamabad, Pakistan)
During her two years at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Megan worked tirelessly to create and expand opportunities for Embassy employees to stay fit and healthy. An avid triathlete, Megan was the co-race director of two triathlons, including a 5K, 10K and children’s race. These events drew hundreds of diplomatic participants, volunteers, and spectators, boosting the spirit of collaboration among diplomatic missions. Megan also encouraged Pakistani participation, including young girls who have fewer opportunities to swim, bike and run than boys the same age. She coordinated with Embassy security and like-minded missions to create more options for cyclists to bike beyond the small Diplomatic Enclave while carefully managing the need for safety and security. This led to a regular cycling group of 15+ cyclists for weekly rides. She established relationships with local bike shops to provide resources for bike repair and purchasing. Megan also co-chaired the Federal Women’s Program, organizing regular professional development sessions and events that included members from other diplomatic missions to foster women’s empowerment at post and within the diplomatic community.
WESTERN HEMISPHERE AFFAIRS: Moises Mendoza (Matamoros, Mexico)
Moises carried out an intensive research project to illuminate the nearly 200-year history of U.S. Consulate Matamoros. Partnering with a local university, he identified and organized primary- source resources to allow other researchers to launch their own investigations into the Consulate’s role in the region. To assist and protect his fellow Consulate community members, he designed a smartphone add-on that overlaid color-coded green and red zones over Google Maps to instantly alert personnel and family members when they strayed out of the designated “green zone” and provide directions on how to return. This tool was adopted widely in the Consulate community. Moises also noticed a void in medical care at the Consulate, due to local limitations and the lack of a post medical office. In response, he took evening classes to become an emergency medical technician and CPR instructor.
The AAFSW selection committees also decided to add an Honorable Mention category to further recognize nominees. The 2020 Honorable Mention Awardees include:
AF Melody McCambridge (Gaborone, Botswana)
Melody worked with the Government of Botswana, the private sector and the local community to build a community library, which serves as a gathering place for the community and a learning center for children. Melody took responsibility for fundraising and managing the funds to strategically purchase relevant resources for the library. As a volunteer, she taught others to use available resources to deliver the government-managed curriculum in an engaging and effective manner. Melody used texts from the new library to establish an English-language learning program with exercises in letter knowledge, phonemic awareness and fluency. In addition, she helped bridge socioeconomic divides by organizing weekly events in which private school students read together at the library with the underserved students of Bosele.
EAP Quinzy Johnson (Seoul, Korea)
Upon his arrival in Seoul, Quinzy immediately undertook efforts to find a way to help the city’s most vulnerable people. He regularly volunteered to distribute food to over 2100 homeless people at a shelter, as part of a monthly program organized by the Embassy. Forming a corps of more than 10 volunteers to provide continued support, he trained new recruits and expanded and improved the services at the shelter. As a board member for the Embassy Employees’ Association, he led several initiatives, such as partnering with vendors near the former US Army base on joint ventures that would bring income to them while benefiting the Embassy community. For the Embassy Fleischmeister Association, which hosts biannual events open to the local community, he raised funds, managed events, cooked and served food, and planned the ceremony. He helped raise more than $2000, which was donated to the Korean Breast Cancer Foundation.
EUR Angela Spellman (Yerevan, Armenia)
Angela’s commitment to the Mission community spans the range from the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and the Marine Security Guard detachment, to the adults in the Mission, as well as all of the Eligible Family Member kids. If the CLO has an event or needs an extra person, dish of food, or a sponsor, Angela is the one person who always steps in before she is even asked. Every week, Angela volunteers at the Sister of Charity orphanage to assist with over 15 children with severe physical and mental disabilities. On other days, Angela can be found at the QSI International School, volunteering, chaperoning school trips, or substituting for a teacher. She has never missed a Parent Support Group meeting, to inform QSI of the post community’s needs and help ensure that they are met.
WHA Georgina Allen (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)
Georgina was an early member of the Santo Domingo Volunteer Club, which focuses on literacy, education, and crafts projects with children in the local community. She expanded the volunteer recruitment program, created a club website which allowed people to sign up online, and launched other creative initiatives for people to learn more about the new club and ways to help. She drafted a proposal for the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, securing a grant of $1,500. This money was used for art supplies, learning resources, and even expansion of the club’s space, providing more room in which to play and learn while also enhancing physical security. She raised a further $400 while helping to publicize the club’s activities and recruit new volunteers. She also volunteered with an organization focused on empowering some of the poorest Haitians, using her expertise in business operations to analyze various business models, including required startup funds needed from donors, levels of complexity, sustainability, and various risk factors. She wrote detailed proposals for the founder, which shaped the direction of this innovative and important organization serving Haitian women.
The original announcement is available here via AAFSW.