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Meet the Honorees of the 2022 Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA)
“Honor an overseas volunteer; nominate someone today!” This AAFSW appeal was especially effective in 2022, with 23 nominations submitted from around the world.
The SOSA awards, administered by AAFSW, were established in 1990 with the direct encouragement and support of then-Secretary James A. Baker and his wife Susan. While on official travel, Mrs. Baker was so impressed by the extraordinary volunteer work performed by the Foreign Service community overseas that she advocated for an award to recognize these volunteer accomplishments.
The SOSA awards are presented by AAFSW annually to recognize the most exceptional volunteer efforts by Foreign Service employees and family members abroad. Nominees can be Foreign Service employees, spouses, family members, Eligible Family Member domestic partners, or Members of Household posted overseas. Selection criteria include the scope and impact of the volunteer work, sustainability, ingenuity and leadership. Over its history, the program has honored more than 100 awardees chosen from over 130 diplomatic missions.
The 2022 honorees were chosen by selection committees consisting of AAFSW President Lara Center; AAFSW SOSA Chair Patricia Linderman assisted by committee member Mette Beecroft and new incoming SOSA Co-Chairs Moises Mendoza and José Dorce; Director Gabrielle Hampson and Jason Pantaleo of the Global Community Liaison Office; and the director or other representative of each geographic regional bureau.
Winners will receive a cash award of $2,500 and a pin commemorating the event. Both winners and Honorable Mentions also receive a certificate signed by the Secretary of State. The Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, November 17, 2021, in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. During the past two years, highly successful hybrid ceremonies were held at DACOR-Bacon House, and this will be repeated if necessary. Funding for the award includes donations from former Secretaries of State, including annual support from James and Susan Baker, the Green Family Foundation headed by former Ambassador Steven J. Green; and generous AAFSW members.
The 2022 SOSA Winners
The 2022 SOSA finalists are Justin Wimpey (AF Bureau, Antananarivo, Madagascar); a shared award for the volunteer team of Denis Rajic, Michele Rajic Tang, Vicki Daniel and Ellin R. Lobb (EAP Bureau, Shanghai, China); Meredith Wiedemer (EUR Bureau, Chisinau, Moldova); Debra Stock (NEA Bureau, Doha, Qatar); and Jesus Carlos Valles (WHA Bureau, Port-au-Prince, Haiti).
Recognizing that 97% of Madagascar’s population uses charcoal for cooking, EFM Justin Wimpey sought a better solution which would not only be technologically feasible but highly affordable, produced locally, and culturally accepted. Starting from the traditional Malagasy pot design, he created a pressure cooker which he offered without compensation to a local metalworker and foundry. He also improved the manufacturing process and helped establish a women-led business to market and distribute the pots across Madagascar. The “Cocotte Minute Gasy” is rapidly gaining in popularity as it reduces charcoal use and therefore deforestation, and saves mainly women from spending many hours every day exposed to the health-damaging fumes of charcoal fires.
In March 2022, Shanghai imposed one of the harshest lockdowns in the world in response to the PRC’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, leaving the population without access to food and other necessities. Through indefatigable networking efforts, the volunteer team of Denis Rajic, Michele Rajic Tang, Vicki Daniel, and Ellin R. Lobb organized wholesale food deliveries for U.S. direct-hire staff and families and local employees of Consulate General Shanghai, some of whom had not had deliveries in weeks. The team is now assisting other Missions in establishing their own supply chain systems.
In Moldova, as more than 460,000 Ukrainian refugees have streamed across the border, EFM Meredith Wiedemer was part of the leadership team at a Donation Center that provided emergency supplies like food, hygiene and baby items to over 38,000 refugees. One month into the conflict, she realized the need for long-term support for refugees and opened Sunflower Center, which is currently providing children’s programming, psychosocial support for mothers, and employment to Ukrainian women. She has raised over $200,000 in private contributions and secured partnerships with international organizations in support of Sunflower.
EFM Debra Stock arrived at her first overseas post, Doha, around the same time as a flood of 58,000 Afghan refugees. Debra immediately took the lead in organizing volunteers to help, spending her days and nights for months at the Al Udeid Air Base. Her “Doha Do-Gooders,” as they became known, worked on the receiving lines for incoming refugees and provided warm clothing, hygiene items and other essentials, as well as children’s supplies including over 300 soccer balls. They organized fundraising events for the refugees which brought the Embassy community together, and they even created and furnished a school for the refugee children, where Debra also served as a teacher and mentor.
In Port-au-Prince, EFM Carlos Valles has volunteered over 1,000 hours at the St. Luke’s Foundation Carpenter Training Center of St. Luke’s Foundation, working with at-risk young men who learn under his tutelage to use machinery and tools and work as a team. Their workshop produces desks, chairs and beds as well as affordable coffins which allow Haiti’s urban poor to provide their loved ones with a dignified traditional burial. Carlos also works with the Embassy community to collect and repurpose packing and shipping materials for use in coffin-making. Carlos’ legacy will include a network of trained carpenters who can earn a decent living and fill a critical need for these skills in the Haitian capital.
2022 SOSA Honorable Mention Awardees
This year, an Honorable Mention was chosen from each geographic bureau. All of the nominations were truly exceptional, and we hope to see the Honorable Mentions and other nominees as finalists for this award in upcoming years.
The 2022 Honorable Mentions are Sonia Carolina Torres López (AF Bureau, Conakry, Guinea); Ling L.C. Conley (EAP Bureau, Beijing, China); Ondrej Hindl (EUR Bureau, Tbilisi, Georgia); John Wesley Kane (NEA Bureau, Tel Aviv, Israel); and Wiley W. Skaret (WHA Bureau, Bogota, Colombia).
In Conakry, Guinea, EFM Sonia Carolina Torres López created a sustainable feeding program, using locally produced ingredients and local personnel, for over 80 children who otherwise would have access to only one meal a day.
In Beijing, EFM Ling L.C. Conley provided vital daily visits and supplies to an incoming Embassy family as they endured nine weeks of isolation in a COVID hospital, with the mother separated from the husband, son and daughter.
In Tbilisi, EFM Ondrej Hindl connected the EFM and Department of Defense communities at post and brought people together for volunteer activities including classes for Embassy children, blood drives, fundraising art auctions, events for over 1000 refugee kids, and the creation of a donation center for Ukrainian refugees in Georgia.
EFM John Wesley Kane volunteers daily at a hospital in conflict-wracked East Jerusalem, connecting the Embassy with the community and providing help ranging from direct caregiving to writing a grant for the purchase of hospital beds.
Since the age of 13 when he was posted to Bogota with his family, Wiley Skaret, now 20, has held benefit concerts and operated his own nonprofit foundation, James 1, to provide scholarships for the children of fallen Colombian police officers.
Other 2022 SOSA Award Nominees
Every 2022 nominee performed truly impressive volunteer work, and AAFSW is extremely grateful for their efforts and for the nominators who took the time and trouble to submit these nominations. We hope to see these volunteers as finalists in future years!
Uchechi Roxo (Lilongwe, Malawi)
Zinat A. Kemper (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.) Read more about her volunteer work here.
Raicine M. Campbell (Beijing, China)
Sonia Bernier-Bash (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Heidi Hamilton (Belgrade, Serbia)
Brian D. Brendel (Lahore, Pakistan)
Cyan James (Montevideo, Uruguay
Kathryn Jones (Ciudad Juarez, Mexico)
Columba Flores and Rafael A. Flores Jr. (U.S. Mission Curacao)
David Houston (Panama, Panama)
More details about the fascinating volunteer work of the 2022 honorees and nominees will be shared in future editions of the Global Link, as well as on AAFSW’s website at https://www.aafsw.org/sosa/ .