AAFSW/Secretary of State's Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad
Year 2000 Winners
Tobias Glucksman, son of Trevor and Kathleen Glucksman of Welfleet, was presented on May 5, 2000 the U.S. Secretary of State's Award for Outstanding Volunteerism for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The yearly award is sponsored by the Association of American Foreign Service Women and was presented to Mr. Glucksman in recognition of his efforts towards the conception, development, and managment of an innovative charitable initiatiative, called FriendshipWorks, which matches Singapore American Community resources with the needs of Singaporean charities.
Mr. Glucksman has served three years in the U.S. Department of State, including tours in Washington, DC as a Korea Desk Officer, in Malaysia as an Economic Officer, and currently in Singapore as Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador. Mr. Glucksman received a Masters of International Affairs Degree from Columbia University in 1996 and served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Solomon Islands from 1991-93."
For the past four years, Claudia has served as room parent, active PTA member, PTA Lost and Found Chairperson and, in 1997 and 1998, as co-chairperson of the PTA/Student Council-sponsored Halloween carnival. She is also this year's co-chair of the school's annual Yard Sale.
Claudia came to Rabat in 1995 without an assignment at the Embassy. She says the time off was a gift, because it let her give to the community in so many ways. But even after she went back to work full time she continued to perform community service, saying it is gratifying to know that she can help to make a difference in so many people's lives.
The mother of four children, three attending the Rabat American School, Claudia plays an active role in building trust and friendship with the American, Moroccan, and other-nationality parents at the school. Her generosity, helpfulness, and can-do attitude at the school are renown -- whether it is tracking down lost clothing, accompanying classes on field trips, chaperoning school dances, selling books at the book fair, or raising money for the PTA or other charitable organizations. And she often manages to fulfill more than one objective when she does donate her time and talents. For example, one year Claudia persuaded NASA to donate a bottle of helium gas to her son's class. The class sold balloons at the annual American Women's Association (AWA) bazaar, contributing its entire proceeds from the sale toward the approximately $20,000 the AWA raises each year and donates, through its Welfare Committee, to women and children in the greater Rabat area. She leads by example: the class members learned for themselves how it feels to give to the community, and the poor people of Rabat benefited from the donation made to the AWA. Under Claudia's guidance, the class collects toys to be donated to a child care center for poor families who need child care for their children while they are working. The class is also gaining some hands-on community service-it will soon be painting the walls in some of the poor schools in Rabat. Claudia also spends a lot of her free time coordinating other projects with the class such as bake sales and class-sponsored school dances.
Claudia did not let full-time work, begun in late 1997, to slow down her services to the community. She served as co-chairperson of the jointly sponsored PTA/Student Council's Halloween Carnival for the last two years. The usual profit from this activity was around $200. Claudia used her talents to persuade area merchants to donate prizes and products for the carnival. As a result, 1998's profit for the PTA was over a thousand dollars. The money will go a long way towards enriching the lives of the children at the school. For example, the PTA contributes to the AMIS baseball league, paying for gloves, bats, and other equipment, for the over 200 children who play every year (the school has about 430 students in grades pre-K through 12). Claudia has also contributed to the school-associated Very Little Theater group, working behind-the-scenes in arranging for the table/dinnerware setup for the yearly shows and working during the shows as a waitress for the past two years.
Whatever the event at the school - book fair, candy sales, annual picnic, movies, bake sales, chaperone, etc., Claudia Romeo is there, tirelessly volunteering her time to the community.
A member of the American Women's Association, Claudia volunteered her time at the Association's annual Christmas bazaars and other fund-raising events. She also gives her time to the "Circle Diplomatic", another women's association, working at its annual bazaar and donating American baked goods to sell, all, again, for charity.
Claudia has worked with others at the embassy to solicit clothing, books, and other goods for donation to the less fortunate in the Rabat area. She volunteered for and served as the chairperson for the Embassy's Combined Federal Campaign these last two years, and as the chairperson for the savings bond campaign in 1998.
In 1995, Claudia began accompanying the then-5th grade class on monthly visits to the Lalla Meriem Orphanage. The children at the orphanage, ranging in age from newborn to age 4, as well as special needs children of all ages, need to meet children and adults outside their normal environment. Claudia began visiting the orphanage weekly, playing, singing, and dancing with the 2-4 year olds. She used her own funds to buy nutritious food (such as fruit and yogurt), balls, and other toys for the children. She solicited clothing and toys from others in the US community for the children. The orphanage was unable to buy all the medications it needed one year (such as creams for chapped skin and diaper rash) and Claudia bought and donate these. Full time work prevented Claudia from continuing her weekly visits to the orphanage (foreigners cannot visit the orphanage on weekends), but it didn't stop her: she still manages to visit - taking days off when she can or using American holidays. She is the one that people go to when they have questions about the orphanage - volunteer work, adoption, etc.
Around the corner from the RSPCA-equivalent (SPANA) animal shelter (where all dogs are found homes for, and horses, mules, and donkeys are nursed back to health) is the city pound. On a regular basis, usually every three days, the dogs at the pound are put down, either by electrocution or with strychnine, either a horrible way for an animal to die. Claudia has saved six of those dogs, paying for their inoculations, feeding and grooming them, and finding them new homes. She worked with SPANA to get it to work with the pound to save some of the dogs. Although no solution has yet been reached, SPANA did provide the pound with a more humane injection for putting the dogs down. Again, many people in Morocco go to Claudia for information concerning SPANA's work, adopting pets or giving them up for adoption, neutering information, etc.
When Lynne Germain Montgomery arrived in Croatia in 1998 "volunteerism" was still remembered as the communist regime's term for the unpaid work people were made to do on Saturdays to make life better for party apparachiks. Lynne had a vision of a Croatia where volunteerism truly meant what we know it to be, public service gladly given to help those in need. She set a goal to help reshape the concept of volunteerism; to erase the stigma of the mandated programs of the past and show through example that helping others is its own reward.
The need for community self help in Croatia is profound. The four-year war for independence ended in 1995. It left deep scars across every facet of the Croatian landscape, literally in its physical destruction, in the lingering effect of having over a million landmines laid on its territory, and also in its emotional and psychological impacts. As the US Ambassador's wife, Lynne was in a unique position to capture the attention of the media and create awareness of the need that existed in Croatia. She formed alliances with key Croatian organizations to ensure support and longevity of these efforts.
Lynne has focused her efforts to foster volunteerism in three main areas: the de-mining of Croatia, improvements in the healthcare sector, and production of multi-cultural events as a fundraiser to support over 20 charities aimed at aiding victims of war trauma.
Upon her arrival, Lynne visited war-torn areas such as Vukovar and Zadar to understand the effect of the war on the Croatian people. Hundreds of thousands of Croatian citizens, Croats and minority Serbs alike, had been driven from their homes during the war. Due in part to heavy mining the resettlement process was very slow. Lynn convinced the Croatian Mining Center (CROMAC), the organization responsible for managing de-mining, to join her in a fundraising campaign to expand the de-mining efforts.
To help prioritize the projects she met with many people from these war-affected areas. The recurring theme was gratitude for de-mining their houses but desperation for de-mining to begin on their surrounding fields so they could feed their families and bring their children home.
Lynne approached the American Chamber of Commerce in Croatia and suggested a plan to engage their members in an "adopt" a minefield campaign. She worked tirelessly with CROMAC and AMCHAM securing commitments from AmCham members and matching funds from the Slovenian Trust fund for approximately $100,000.00. She humanized the de-mining effort by bringing businessmen to meet the individuals whose fields would be de-mined with their contributions. The emotional response was overwhelming. Businessmen helped farmers plant the first seeds in the de-mined fields. Lynne provided the spark needed to accelerate the return of Croatian farms to the people of Zadar. To date 30 fields have been de-mined with these funds.
The U. S. Office of the President's Special Representative for Global Humanitarian De-mining has heralded Lynne's success. At Lynne's request, Jim Lawrence, Director for Partnership Programs, US Department of State, brought a delegation from the US to Croatia. After meeting with school children unable to play in the fields, widows whose husbands were killed trying to grow enough food for their families, and politicians desperate to rebuild the economies of their small towns, additional pledges for over $350,000 for de-mining projects in Croatia were secured.
Roots for Peace, a group of U.S. vintners from California, are exploring the possibility of de-mining former vineyards and investing in expansion of the Croatian wine industry. Lynne will be hosting a delegation representing several major U.S. Vineyards in May.
Lynne's de-mining efforts have been so successful that Deanna Racun, the wife of the newly elected Prime Minister of Croatia, is joining forces with Lynne to show the new Croatian Government's concern for de-mining.
Lynne's second main area of volunteerism follows the idea of "healing through the Arts". She conceived the idea to start a drama club for children and work on a joint production between American and Croatian children. She contacted Croatian actors and actresses and requested their involvement in the production. Lynne has produced two Shakespearean plays, performed a dozen times in multiple cities in Croatia. The performances have raised more then $20,000 which has been used to support over 20 charitable endeavors.
Among the first beneficiaries were groups involved in the efforts to exhume and identify the thousands of victims of the war whom their killers tossed into mass graves. For the families the process of identification and reburial is essential to the healing process. The professionals involved in the physical act of exhumation, however, have suffered their own traumas. To facilitate and encourage their work Lynne recruited and raised funds for a team of psychiatric counselors to work closely with the exhumation team at every stage. The result--this critical effort of healing can proceed to its necessary end.
Lynne's work with the victims of war has brought to her attention shortfalls in many areas of Croatia's social infrastructure, in particular in the health care sector. Through her extensive contacts in social service sectors, Lynne came to realize that the war had left other scars. Spousal and child abuse was increasing and Croatia's social sector was unable to cope.
The Center for Sexually and Physically Abused Children at Klaiceva Hospital has been instrumental in educating public officials such as teachers, police, and judge's throughout Croatia on signs of abuse and the appropriate steps for intervention. Lynne has worked closely with Dr. Gordana Buljan-Flander to set up a hotline manned by volunteers. She and Dr. Buljan-Flander organized a conference on abuse and recruited an impressive list of specialists from Croatia, the USA and other countries. Lynne has lent her name and time to fundraising efforts for the center. The next one is scheduled for February 3, 2000.
The major success has been the movement away from the position that "Abuse" did not exist in Croatia and the understanding of the need for the work of this Center. Thanks to Lynne's involvement the media now publicizes information about the hotline. With awareness has come the opportunity for the center to reach more individuals in need of help. Another of Lynne's efforts to support the medical field in Croatia was focused on the need to create a non-threatening environment for terminally ill children at Rebro Hospital. Lynne initiated the idea to create an environment more inviting and less intimidating for the children. She enlisted the aid of Dr. Paladino, the Chief of Neurology at REBRO hospital in Zagreb. Not only did she conceive the idea, meet with Croatian businesses to donate paint, curtains, toys and furniture, but also she worked side by side with American and Croatian volunteers to transform a once drab ward into an environment of warmth. The new ward is full of cartoon characters painted by artists who donated their time. The room also has a new TV, VCR, new furniture, brightly colored curtains and enough toys for the current children and for dozens of future residents of the ward. In addition to the "renovation" Lynne was responsible for initiating a fundraising effort to provide the Neurology unit with next generation medical equipment.
The hospital staff and the press recognized the significance of Lynne's work and credited her with reviving the "spirit of Volunteerism" in Croatia. As a result, numerous letters from other hospitals asking her to lead similar projects have been received. To date her efforts have resulted in the completion of two such hospital projects.
The sight of Croatian nuns in habits happily, if not skillfully, slapping paint on hospital walls while doctors and nurses patiently paint the trim and ready the walls for the specially donated artworks done by Croatian and American school children, speaks volumes of her success in broadening the base of participation in Croatia.
Croatia has long cared for its handicapped peoples through a network of institutions. The Association for Promoting Inclusion is a program focused on improving the quality of life for physically and mentally handicapped individuals. The goal of this group is to move individuals capable of living on their own out of institutions and into apartments. The Association helps find jobs and offers support to these handicapped people through its network of volunteers. The program shows respect for the individual by allowing them to be self-sufficient contributors to society. Lynne has supported the efforts of this group for over two years.
The idea of inclusion is a new concept and one that has been difficult to assimilate into the Croatian culture. Lynne has been a vocal supporter of inclusion, encouraging the Director of STANCIC, the largest institution in Croatia, to try the program on a small scale. Recently two individuals from STANCIC were allowed to join the Association's program. The Association now has 25 people in its inclusion program and is funded through contributions and grants. Lynne's personal support of this program has been responsible for heightening its visibility, creating awareness of it goals and opening doors in the business community for jobs for these handicapped people.
Jo Ann Fuller
For an American to adjust to life in Bangladesh, he or she must come to terms with mass poverty on a scale that has never existed in the United States. Each person adjusts in his or her own way. Many Americans confine their activities mainly to the Embassy, and the American School and Club, or find friends among Bangladeshi and expatriate elites. Very few reach out to the poor in their homes and try to help them to improve their lives. Jo Ellen Fuller is one of these few.
Twice a month on weekends for the last three and a half years, Jo has taken a 30-minute flight from Dhaka to Khulna, bumped for a hour and a half along a potholed road, and then walked down a dirt path to reach a Rishi village named Chuknagar. The Rishi are untouchable Hindus, an impoverished and supremely vulnerable minority within a minority in this Muslim nation. Until the late 1970s, because of their low caste, the Rishi of Chuknagar village were systematically denied any access to education, medical care, and virtually all other social services. They continue to suffer from severe discrimination and are among the poorest groups in this very poor nation. Even Bangladesh's famous NGOs have largely ignored Chuknagar. The only help from outside Chuknagar came from a Catholic priest, Father Luigi Paggi, who has made the Rishi his life's work for the past twenty years-and for the last several years, from Jo Ellen Fuller.
Father Luigi has created among the Rishi a small school system and operated in Chuknagar a variety of social services, ranging from micro-credit cooperatives to small health units. Jo has become Father Luigi's chief fundraiser and, in the process, has herself become a presence in Chuknagar. In Dhaka, Jo collects donations of used, excess, or unwanted items such as clothing, shoes, toys and school supplies from members of the expatriate community, and bundles them off to Chuknagar, where they are resold, and the proceeds go to support Father Luigi's work. Jo's fundraising has, for example, helped a barber and a carpenter buy the tools of their trades, paid to teach small rice farmers how to raise such cash crops as vegetables, fish, and poultry, and paid for teachers' salaries and school supplies. Jo's good works are so well known that she now regularly receives unsolicited cash contributions from current and former members of the Mission community, as well as from other expatriates. Just last week she received a $200 check from a family that left post about a year ago. She applied her persuasive powers to the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, which is considering Chuknagar as the site for one of its first houses.
A professional educator, Jo has trained the Chuknagar village teachers to rely less on rote memorization and more on such modern teaching practices as the "inquiry method" school of teaching, literacy skills, conceptual skills, and presenting subjects in an integrated manner. She frequently teaches English classes in Chuknagar and in the process, demonstrates these teaching strategies. Jo even administered Father Luigi's schools for six months until she succeeded in hiring a local supervisor to monitor the teachers' and students' progress, and to dispense monthly salaries. She has become a respected elder in the village and counsels young adults in such areas as self-esteem, career planning, and the special challenges to women in this male-dominated society.
Father Luigi wrote to me recently: "Ms. Jo Ellen Fuller's contribution to the human and religious growth of the Rishi outcaste people has been great. The Rishi have appreciated her love towards them and as a sign of gratefulness have given her the name of 'Auntie Jo.' Most probably the Rishi will never be able to repay back their Auntie Jo for all her help-assistance and cooperation. But they will remember her forever. The missionaries working among the Rishi thank the Lord for having sent this outstanding lady to work with them for his Kingdom."
Jo is also active in community service here in Dhaka. She is a member of the Dhaka American Women's Club (DAWC)'s Charities Committee, has served on the DAWC Board of Directors, and has been the editor of its newsletter. For the last four years, Jo has been the chairperson of the Benevolence Committee of the Dhaka International Community Church, which provides funding for a wide variety of projects, including purchasing computers for educational organizations and blankets for drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation, and conducting training workshops. She has also opened her home in Dhaka to several women's support groups.
David Beam has shown exemplary and extraordinary personal concern for the improvement of the environment and human condition for the most disadvantaged and forgotten members of society in El Salvador. He has given selflessly of his time, energy and personal resources to improve the lives of literally hundreds of people. He does it all quietly, without seeking personal recognition for his efforts, but always with a eye towards educating the broader Embassy community to the needs of the people by involving them as much as possible so that they might see the reality of the poor in El Salvador. David sees that reality, is moved to compassion, becomes involved in the solution and tries, when possible, to assist in creating a structure for continued help.
While his personal involvement is great, David's greatest strengths in being of service are his ability to get others involved and to marshal all resources available to make good things happen. Below are concrete examples of how he has demonstrated his commitment to the people of El Salvador.
Villas Infantiles Orphanage: David has been involved with a local orphanage for over two years. The orphanage houses up to eighty children at any given time. Besides going there on a regular basis to play with the children, he has worked hard to provide for the broader needs of the children and the facility. David has organized toy and clothing drives during each of the past two Christmas seasons so that the kids would be able to celebrate the holiday with individual gifts. He introduced the Deputy Chief of Mission and his wife to the group and assisted them with hosting a Christmas party for 65 of the kids---complete with an American-style barbecue, Santa Claus, clowns and magicians. The director of the orphanage commented that it was the most special Christmas most of the kids had ever experienced. He later assisted the DCM to invite 80 kids for lunch at Burger King followed by a visit to the zoo.
The orphanage had been hampered in its ability to provide for the children because there was no running water at the facility. They relied on the often-times unreliable delivery of water by truck. He recognized the need and arranged through USAID contacts to bring the situation directly to the attention of the head of the water company. Within a month, the water company had dug trenches, laid about 400 meters of pipes and the orphanage had running water for the first time. The sanitary conditions at the facility immediately improved, leading to fewer health problems for the children.
David contacted the American School and invited the American teachers to get involved at the Villas Infantiles and there are now about seven teachers who regularly accompany him to visit the kids. They use their unique skills to help the kids with reading and organized physical activities.
Playa San Diego: David met and befriended a family in a local beach community. The family consists of an unemployed single mother with eight children. The family lives in horrid conditions in a one room shack. He's provided resources for them to buy food and several times he paid for doctor visits for a chronically sick two-year-old child. He brought a physician from Doctors Without Borders to exam the kids. Most importantly, he and a USAID colleague went to the effort of taking three of the kids to the local school and registering them as students. It was the first time any of the kids had any educational experience. They paid the registration fees, provided money for school uniforms and shoes, and purchased a year's worth of supplies for the children. David recognized that education is likely the only vehicle that might allow the children to escape the vicious cycle of poverty in which they are mired.
Canton Huertas Viejas: By far, David's most ambitious attempt to be of service to the people of El Salvador is his involvement in a project that, when completed, will provide a system to bring water into fifty houses in a very rural area of the country. More than 250 people will benefit from the project. Currently, the residents have to walk several hundred yards carrying huge water containers to and from a common water source. David is working with a Peace Corps volunteer in the community to bring the project to reality. Through his contacts in El Salvador, David introduced the Peace Corps volunteer to an American NGO official who has agreed to finance the project and to provide technical support. David has traveled to the site (it's a four hour drive one way) on many occasions to work with the volunteer, members of the local community and with engineers from the NGO to prepare the way. Construction of the system could begin as early as February 2000. David was motivated to get involved by a staggering statistic of an estimated 12,000 deaths of children every year in El Salvador from gastrointestinal maladies----caused primarily be lack of access to clean water. In addition to the water project, David has collected clothing, shoes and toys to donate to the poorest families in the community. He has also helped the local school with donations which they sold in a flea market to raise funds for musical instruments and sports equipment.
The examples cited above are the areas in which he is most active as a volunteer, but his community involvement is certainly not limited to those areas. He supports a Peace Corps scholarship program for rural women. He's a very involved and committed volunteer member of the board of the American Society of El Salvador, where he has worked tirelessly to involve American citizens in Society activities. He supports Salvation Army activities for children at Christmas time and purchased gifts for several other children whose families could not afford to buy them gifts. David doesn't seem to be able to rest when it comes to trying to bring a little joy and happiness to the lives of children, especially the poorest kids.
In addition to his work in El Salvador, David is a founding member of a non-profit organization that assists street kids in Nicaragua, where he served a decade ago as a Peace Corps volunteer.
ABANDONED CHILDREN: When the nominee passed the Osu Children's Home on her way to work everyday, she worried about the ninety children virtually warehoused there, deprived of a normal family life and TLC (tender loving care) often missing in institutions. Having served as a volunteer in orphanages in the State's, she decided once again on personal intervention.
She never dreamed that it would be such an ordeal getting approval in Accra's traditional culture, but after several interviews and letters, she was finally given permission to volunteer at the Home. The children, ranging in ages from 2 days to 18 years, are assigned to different buildings according to their ages. During a tour of the buildings Ola noticed one little boy, aged two years, already so scrawny and traumatized, that he was unable to speak, smile, eat, or interact with others. Another infant appeared to be a midget. Some of the children were malnourished. Most of them had infected boils on their heads. All of them had severe diarrhea, a few even had AIDS. She could see that this group needed her help more than the others.
Once or twice a week, usually Saturday or Sunday afternoons, she spent hours at the home, caring for several babies. Sometimes she had to hold two competing babies, starved for attention, in her lap at one time. Rats running in the building, unsanitary conditions (once she found herself feeding 10 babies with one spoon), lack of food and supplies, children fed rice mixed with a couple of spoons of spinach stew and given water, no milk, and needless to say no early childhood learning activities, did not deter Ola. She changed what she could: requesting donations from the mission, purchasing clothes, eating utensils, milk and food with her funds, and teaching and playing educational games and activities with the children.
Soon Ms. Criss wanted to take children home for the weekend to expose them to a normal home environment. The Home gave her permission to take three children: The two-year-old traumatized boy, whose mother, she learned, had abandoned him when he was four months old. (His father had placed him in the Home because he could not care for him.) A two year old girl, whose mother and twin sister had died in childbirth. An eight month old girl, who had been abandoned by her unwed mother at a local hospital shortly after birth.
Because the children cried so when they were returned to the Home, Ola decided to keep at least the little boy on an extended basis. For the first weeks, the boy had carry-over nightmares throughout the nights. But the nominee slept in the room with him to be there to comfort him. Months later he is still with her, and is now a normal 2-1/2 year old: talking, running, laughing, eating heartily. The nominee and her husband have enrolled him in an excellent private international school and have begun the adoption process. Because of our nominee's instinctive altruism, a child who is very bright, might grow up to be president one day.
LITTLE LEAGUE FOR PRE-TEENS: Coaching a Little League Team in Africa is nothing like coordinating a team in the United States. Being the only female coach of an all male team in a macho culture was "interesting" enough in itself. Add the fact that some of the former players refused to play on a team so low in the ratings, that many of the teams refused to play against them, and that most of the other teams teased the players, saying they would not win any games especially with a "girl" coach, and even a few coaches objected to her being a coach, she had her work cut out for her. In spite of this, Ola volunteered to coach the worst team in the league.
Giving up all her weekend mornings and using her annual leave for two afternoons a week to attend games, things soon got under way. First was the problem of uniforms, which she handedly solved by using her own money to purchase them. Getting players to the practice field was another problem because some of the boys had to walk long distances, so she "ferried" team members using her own jeep. No drinking water in this hot and humid climate was a major problem, which she solved by hauling drinking water from her residence for her boys in the back of her vehicle to the practice field and stadium.
Naturally her team improved literally by leaps and bounds. In being an innovative person, one day when an opposing team failed to show up, disappointing her now eager players, she drove the umpire around in her car and rounded up the players and delivered them to the stadium!
Not surprisingly, in 1999, her team, called the "Little Misfits", not only won more games than all the previous years combined, but also beat last year's champions and made the play-offs. By now, of course, all the boys on the team, their self-esteem vastly boosted, addressed her as "Coach Ola".
THE ELDERLY: Ola served as an advisor to Help Aged Ghana, established in 1988 to advance the interest and welfare of older persons. She provided valuable information on programming for the elderly, counseling the elderly, and such issues as biology/psychology/sociology of the aged and gave input on the growing subject of thanatology.
Based on her work with Help Aged Ghana, Calvary Baptist Church and Kaneshie Baptist Church asked her to help them in establishing senior citizens centers. She has met with them weekly to provide guidance and advice. The pilot program will begin in February at these two churches, and will expand to other churches, using the model developed for these two churches.
The senior citizens' centers will provide an opportunity for Accra senior citizens to meet each week with other seniors in their community for recreation, arts and crafts, fellowship, fun and educational programs. Activities will include scenic trips, tours of historic sites, and social events. Ola will lead aerobic and yoga classes for seniors, starting February 12, 2000. Others in the community have been recruited by her to participate: an Embassy gardener's daughter, who makes beautiful Kente cloth Christmas ornaments; one of her husband's artist friends to teach painting; one of her own Peace Corps friends to teach knitting; and a mission spouse to teach music appreciation. To guarantee the success of the program, Ms Criss is using her personal funds to purchase the necessary materials for the classes.
TEENAGE PREGNANCY: When the Peace Corps sent out a call for volunteers to serve as mentors for its Gender Project, Ola Criss, a strong believer in the need to develop youth, especially girls, as leaders of tomorrow, was one of the first to respond.
Aware of the problem of rural teenager girls failing to complete school because of pregnancy in Ghana, she agreed to become a mentor for two 15 year old girls from nearby villages. The goal of the project was to encourage senior secondary girls to stay in school and to raise their awareness of the female professional as an image for emulation.
From April 15 through April 19, the girls were guests in her home where they observed the typical at home routine of a female professional. During the long weekend, Ms Criss was in constant attendance of the girls, especially counseling them and advising them on developing an action plan for staying in school and "getting ahead" in life. This experience was shared with other girls back in the village. Friday was "Take Your Mentee to Work Day". Ms Criss gave her mentees a day long inspirational look at a day in the embassy of a great nation. Saturday was an all day conference in which the First Lady of Ghana participated, providing a striking role model. Ms Criss continues to offer guidance and support to these two girls, immeasurable improving their chances in a culture not always considerate of females.
THE HOMELESS: When she arrived in Ghana in 1997, Ms Criss recognized inadequate housing as one of the major obstacles preventing African children from breaking the cycle of poverty. She believes that without adequate housing, children are locked into the same poverty that surrounds their families. Being a longtime advocate for the homeless in the States and having volunteered for many years at Martha's Table in the District of Columbia, she volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build housing for homeless families in Accra.
Wearing jeans and sneakers, she hauled water for mixing the cement. When the water barrel was emptied, she volunteered to get more. Carrying a large metal dishpan, she walked nearly three miles to fetch water from a mudhole (that was fine, but she was unsuccessful trying to carry the water on her head), shoveled sand for making cement, mixed the cement, and made bricks, using the brickmaking machine donated from the Ambassador's Self-Help project. (Prior to the construction activities, she presented a $1,000 check from the Embassy's American staff to pay for the materials)
Now one more family in Ghana has a safe, decent, durable and affordable place to live. A sign was erected in front of the house: "Sponsored by the American Embassy Staff ". Ola Criss was the Embassy's hands-on part of this wonderful experience.
Always, Ola's volunteerism has been selflessly motivated, intelligent and above all productive. She has been an outstanding volunteer and has made a tremendous difference in the community