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SOSA: The 2010 Winners

Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Overseas

2010 Winners

Shirley A. Winter – Yaounde (AF)

2010WinterShirley is a family member with over 10 years experience as an American Red Cross swim instructor and as a professional in the field of aquatics.  She used those skills to establish a sustainable water safety program that will impact generations of people.  During her two years in Yaounde, Shirley worked with the orphans of Green Eyes in Africa and not only brought her love of the water to these children, many of whom were disabled,  but also taught more than 100 Cameroonians and expatriates swimming lessons and water safety skills.

In partnership with the American School of Yaounde (ASOY), Shirley developed and implemented a swim program modeled after an American Red Cross water safety program.  Recognizing that the interest in competitive and recreational swimming was on the rise in Cameroon, she met with the Vice-President of the National Swimming Federation to ensure that pool employees and patrons were properly trained in water safety.  As a result of her meeting, Shirley offered two lifeguarding courses to the staff at the local pools in the city.  She also taught swimming lessons to Embassy adults and children including the LES staff.  She further turned her attention to nannies and housekeepers in the expatriate community, many of whom had a fear of water, yet worked in residences that had pools.

Shirley achieved her goal of passing down the skill of swimming and knowledge of water safety to generations to come.

Shameera M. Wiest – Kuala Lumpur (EAP)

2010WiestShortly after her arrival at post, family member Shameera Wiest volunteered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work with the Afghan Hazara community in Kuala Lumpur.  Her substantive knowledge about Afghanistan contributed greatly to the improved welfare of the Afghan refugee community in Malaysia.

Working with the UNHCR and Malaysian NGOs, she helped the refugees assimilate into Malaysian culture and become productive members of the ethnically diverse host country.  Shameera developed a number of network support groups for the refugees within the Embassy community and also with expat and local organizations.

In addition to reaching English and arranging healthcare seminars, she enlisted the help of the International Women’s Association of KL (IWAKL) who supported the Afghan widows’ group with goods and services as well as contacts and mentors to promote their developing cottage industry skills.

In addition, Shameera has worked tirelessly to establish a community center for the refugees with plans for a literacy center, training in employment, health and hygiene issues, and a recreational center for the children.  In July 2010, she and a group of friends organized a fundraiser which raised sufficient funds to pay six months’ rent on a facility suitable for the center’s needs.  And she continues to work to make the center a permanent reality.

Shameera’s humanitarian efforts are assisting refugees of a war-torn country to find suitable homes where they can live in peace and prosper.

Mindy R. Michels and Melissa E. Schraibman – Tirana (EUR)

2010MichelsFS employee Melissa Schraibman and partner Mindy R. Michels helped a small group of Albanian activists to create a vibrant and active lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Albania where none had existed.

Violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was common in Albania.  But through the collaborative efforts of this newly-formed group, Mindy and Melissa helped establish a grassroots organization, Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination.  The duo met each week with the members of the Alliance and provided support, inspiration and skills development.  They hosted strategic planning sessions for the new NGO, defining its identity, core values and mission.  Over time, Melissa and Mindy trained and mentored the leadership team in grant writing, membership recruitment, press strategies, organizational development, and grassroots activism.

The Alliance has succeeded in creating a social and activist network that transformed the lives of the people it reached.  There are now weekly discussion groups, weekly social events, regular grassroots actions, and a very active Facebook group with over 1100 members.  Mindy also participated in an ongoing working group sponsored by the Dutch Embassy on LGBT issues.  As part of the group, she assisted in drafting a comprehensive non-discrimination law in Albania covering everything from discrimination on the basis of religion to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The volunteer accomplishments of Mindy and Melissa showcase what volunteer service can achieve on behalf of transformative diplomacy.

Beth A. Brownson – Mumbai (SCA)

2010BrownsonFS employee Beth Brownson’s commitment to community outreach and social service has raised the image of the U. S. Consulate and the American people in Mumbai.  More importantly, she has been the leader and inspiration for the Consulate’s broader participation in the NGO community.

Beth reached out to a number of local NGOs, learned about their needs and requirements, and determined which organizations would be most appropriate for Consulate volunteers.  She then established a Social Outreach Committee with rotating chairs, each of whom would organize monthly outreach events with a pool of respected NGOs.  In this way, Beth created very effective, well-organized, and user-friendly volunteer opportunities for the community that will continue well beyond her time at post.

Beth focused her volunteer efforts with a number of children’s shelters in the city.  She recruited Consulate staff to put in a vegetable garden at the Women’s Empowerment Center and Network and made weekly visits to teach the girls how to garden scientifically.  Beth also organized Consulate staff members to shepherd groups of children from three shelters to the Nehru Science Center over successive weekends.

Every time she traveled on business to rural Maharashtra, she took with her a van full of clothing and toys collected from the Consulate community to distribute in tribal villages.  Beth has transformed the way the Consulate relates to the local community and has given fellow volunteers the skills they need to continue community service at whatever post they serve at around the globe.

Jose M. Torres – San Jose (WHA)

2010TorresDuring years of service with the Salvadoran Red Cross, family member Jose (Mauricio) Torres saw the great need for Central America to have its own search and rescue dog capability.  He and fellow Red Cross members started the first canine search and rescue teams in the region.

During his FSO spouse’s tour in Washington, D. C., Mauricio spent 2 years learning with the members of Virginian Task Force 1, one of only two FEMA teams that deploys internationally.  Upon posting to San Jose, Mauricio contacted the Costa Rican Red Cross and the Fire Department to offer his assistance with their fledgling canine search and rescue program.  In concert with the Fire Department, he set up a weekly training schedule which has resulted in marked improvement in the performance of the dogs and handlers. As a native Spanish speaker and trained dog handler, he is helping the Red Cross rewrite its dog training manual.

Not content with passing on knowledge, Mauricio is also building links between the Costa Rican teams and experts in the U. S.  He invited his former trainer from FEMA to Costa Rica to give a workshop to the Fire Department and the Red Cross.  The Red Cross subsequently invited the FEMA trainer to speak at a Central American canine search and rescue conference it will host for five countries in 2011.

Mauricio still provides guidance to the search and rescue dog handlers in El Salvador and they in turn look forward to the upcoming conference.  Through his volunteer actions, Mauricio is building Central America’s capacity to respond to natural disasters.  His personal goal is to leave behind a viable and self-sustaining canine search and rescue program that can respond in a swift and professional manner in order to save lives throughout the region.

For more information about the SOSA award, click here or email sosa@aafsw.org.

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