The SOSA Project

The SOSA Project: Foreign Service Volunteers – 20 Years of Grassroots Diplomacy

In 2010, AAFSW celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad. Since 1990 AAFSW has sponsored and administered this prestigious awards program.  All active American USG direct-hire employees, their spouses and family members, their domestic partners and members of household are eligible.  In the past 20 years, over 400 nominees have been recognized for their outstanding volunteer service in over 130 countries around the globe. For more infomation about this award, click here, or email

To commemorate the 20th anniversary and honor all SOSA nominees, AAFSW has launched an on-line publication with a Forward from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The publication provides the history and background of the SOSA award, as well as compelling profiles and highlights from each of the six geographic bureaus within the Department of State.

Through their selfless actions, these SOSA winners and nominees have changed lives and saved lives and have inspired others to volunteer as well.

Use the links below to read (in PDF format) chapters of The SOSA Project

From the Desk of Sarah Genton, Writer/Editor for The SOSA Project

Sarah Genton
Sarah Genton

I began digging through the SOSA historical files in the summer of 2008, organizing nominations by region, by year, and by country.  What appeared a simple writing assignment at first took me on a virtual journey around the world into the lives of Foreign Service employees and their family members.  I poured through over 1,000 pieces of paper, reading about inspiring individuals who, in additional to their service with the U.S. government, chose to volunteer while posted overseas.

In SOSA’s early years, many of the nominations were submitted via “cable traffic” and printed out on now unreadable paper.  I gathered the names of nominees and winners from a variety of sources – copies of submissions (in some cases using a highlighter to illuminate faded print), old AAFSW newsletters, and notes from past SOSA committee members.  Once that list was complete, I selected a broad range of nominations to include in the text.  I regret that we could not chronicle each and every person, project, place, and story.  I tried, instead, to show a representation of the whole.

The selected profiles and the country highlights show creativity, energy and drive, resourcefulness, and courage. They serve as motivational examples of how one can get involved and volunteer overseas.  While the popular media now honors “American Heroes” on TV shows, in films and in print, members of the U.S. Foreign Service have been quiet heroes in their own right for years before it was fashionable to be recognized for humanitarian efforts, for assuring the education of children at an orphanage, or helping refugees overcome the ravages of war.  The U.S. Foreign Service has a valued history of giving back to the communities in which we live.

To best illustrate the impact of SOSA-nominated volunteer projects, I chose to use many words from the nominations themselves.  So I must thank the people who took the time to write stellar prose describing their nominee’s contributions.  Many of their words are in the text you read today.

I want to specially thank Cathy Salvaterra, current SOSA chair, who encouraged me to keep writing. Her patience and wise counsel is one reason this publication came to fruition.  Thank you also to the team of editors who reviewed the final product for typos, syntax, and general understandability.

Finally, congratulations to all SOSA nominees and winners.  Your commitment to a better world is evident in your everyday actions and for that you deserve the highest of praise.