SOSA: The 2012 Winners

AAFSW is pleased to announce the 2012 winners of the Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA).  Meet the winners and read about their projects!   Congratulations to:

Bureau of African Affairs (AF)
Karl P. Deringer

 Mr. Deringer, who is the spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, visited a village called Bwiza ten days after his arrival in Rwanda in July, 2009. By chance, he came upon a young woman in a difficult labor there and helped her access medical care, resulting in the safe delivery of a healthy baby boy.

The poverty of Bwiza’s 170 villagers, most of whom are socially marginalized Batwa (descendants of pygmies) contrasted with their irrepressible spirit, especially as expressed in their rich, original songs. Karl was inspired to work to improve their lives. Drawing in Rwandans, Americans, and others, he helped Bwiza become food-secure and to develop income-generating skills.

During his three years in Rwanda, Karl visited the Bwiza village weekly. He initiated and oversaw numerous projects, including building agricultural terraces, planting crops, raising rabbits, and teaching first aid. He promoted Bwiza’s informal singing group, Kwizera (Faith), leading to professional performance opportunities and eventually attracting the attention of Rwandan officials and non-governmental elite who continue to support the village.

Karl’s work advanced rural development, social integration, and ethnic reconciliation in Rwanda.

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)
Cassandra D. Brenn

Cassie Brenn, spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, organized and leads a regular series of “Conversation Hours” at Embassy Hanoi’s American Center in response to growing demand among Vietnamese students for English language opportunities.

Ms. Brenn created a weekly “Culture Connection Series” covering American culture, government, politics and history. Specific topics have included American icons such as Neil Armstrong; American holidays; and American customs such as the tooth fairy. The discussions were creative and interesting, while at the same time providing an opportunity for Vietnamese participants to practice their English skills.

At times, the American Center accommodated over 100 attendees at a session. The series was especially popular because Vietnamese citizens are subjected to censorship based on Communist Party ideology. Ms. Brenn also furthered cultural exchange between the US. and Vietnam by contributing numerous articles to the Embassy newsletter about Vietnamese culture.


Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR)
Elizabeth Joy Shaffer

Elizabeth Shaffer, spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, learned that the Republic of Macedonia had no early intervention or early detection programs that address the needs of young people with autism. An occupational therapist by profession, Ms Shaffer committed herself to raising awareness and providing the necessary resources and tools to help children with autism spectrum disorders.

Ms. Shaffer designed a public awareness campaign to educate people on the common signs and treatment options for children with autism while promoting cooperation among multiple organizations. She also organized the country’s first autism awareness symposium, which attracted over 200 participants, and included opening remarks by the Macedonia’s First Lady, Ms. Maja Ivanova.

Through several additional seminars, Ms Shaffer further helped parents, teachers, and professionals to understand the special needs of children with autism and interventions to help improve behaviors.She worked to build the resource capacity of local organizations by creating a new resource center with books pertaining to children with special needs. She also helped several schools and private centers acquire specialized equipment to address the specialized sensory-motor needs of children with autism spectrum disorders.

Ms Shaffer found innovative ways to use her knowledge and training to help an under-served population in need.

Bureau of Near Eastern and Asian Affairs (NEA)
Jan Cote-Cartwright
Tel Aviv

 After arriving at post as an Information Management Specialist, Jan Cote-Cartwright looked for ways to contribute to the mission and to the local community above and beyond her professional realm.

Within the mission, Ms Cote-Cartwright served as the volunteer Federal Women’s Program Coordinator, organizing quarterly speakers, employment workshops and mentoring sessions for entry level employees.  She also provided assistance with the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) portfolio, becoming familiar with TIP shelters in Israel.  Ms. Cote-Cartwright raised awareness of the needs of these shelters, and collected household items such as clothing, food, cleaning supplies, reading materials and toys for distribution.

In addition, with the help of a Kirby Foundation grant, she established and equipped sewing centers in three shelters to provide an income generating skill for the residents.


Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA)
Dr. Charles E. Wright
New Delhi

Regional Medical Officer Dr. Charles Wright combined his professional skills and personal engagement in several ways to help the urban poor in New Delhi. He he set up a medical clinic in a slum in New Delhi to examine and treat patients in need.

Dr. Wright also set up a community health program to eradicate anemia in schoolchildren, especially in adolescent girls. At eleven schools, he used a finger-stick blood test to identify anemic individuals and provided iron supplements to them. He also lobbied national authorities and organizations to address malnutrition among the poor more effectively.

Dr. Wright also formed a group of doctors to teach trauma care and appropriate responses to a major disaster such as an earthquake or bombing, which were simulated for training purposes. Finally, he served as the mentor to SCRUBS, a high school medical club.  He taught the young members of the club skills such as suturing and giving shots and gave them the opportunity to  to put their skills into practice while assisting at a weekend clinic.


Bureau of Western Hemispheric Affairs (WHA)
Amy L. Zimmerman

Amy Zimmerman, spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, founded Project T.E.A.C.H. in August 2011. T.E.A.C.H. translates into Trazer (Bringing) Educacão (Education) Alimentacão (Nourishment) Carinho (Care/Compassion) e Hope (and Hope), and the project does just that for a school serving disadvantaged children in Greater Brasilia, many of whom reside at an orphanage.

Ms. Zimmerman has recruited over forty volunteers from five countries to share their experience in teaching, literacy, art, music, and physical education. These volunteers have given over 500 hours of service at the school, and bring perishable, nutritious food to supplement school meals on a weekly basis. The project also established a functional library.

To keep the program funded, Ms. Zimmerman has obtained a J. Kirby Simon Trust grant, brought in other volunteer groups such as Boy Scouts, and organized a variety of fundraisers such as bake sales and a cultural evening.