On November 17, 2022, The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) hosted the 32nd Annual Secretary of State Awards (SOSA) Ceremony for Outstanding Volunteering Abroad in the sumptuous Benjamin Franklin Room.
Deputy Secretary of State Brian P. McKeon commended the winners’ exemplary service and presented the awards at the ceremony, saying: “SOSA awards recognize U.S. government employees, family members, and other members of household at embassies and consulates who performed exceptional volunteer service to their communities, mission, or host country, or rendered outstanding assistance in emergencies. I stand in awe of those of you who sign up for this life and undertake it. Those of you who are doing this volunteer work, you’re creating a community or contributing to the creation of a community with a turnover every year at a post. Lots of new folks arriving and are sustaining the community with your efforts.” Secretary of State Blinken delivered a video message of congratulations: “Your work complements the official diplomacy being led by our Foreign Service officers. Both Foreign Service officers and their loved ones do this work without fanfare, and without expectation of any award. They do it because they care, because it’s who they are.”
AAFSW President Celine C. Erickson praised the awardees and the foreign affairs community: “This ceremony reflects on the significance of the strong partnership among AAFSW and the U.S. foreign affairs personnel and family members, since 1960. The creation of AAFSW, in 1960, embodied the spirit of President Kennedy and Secretary of State David Dean Rusk’s commitments to social justice, diversity,
and equity. AAFSW honors the valiant Foreign Service employees, and family members alike, as we celebrated their notable volunteer work. It is noteworthy to recognize their effort, especially during the pandemic. At a time when even humanitarian aid organizations could not deploy to disaster and conflict zones, our foreign service community members kept on with their mission to help the most vulnerable.”
Lara Center, President Emeritus, former committee chair for SOSA and member of the 2022 selection SOSA, shared her enthusiasm with the SOSA ceremony “as the highlight of the year and the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate these amazing individuals for their creative, selfless acts of the American Foreign Service community”, thanking the nominators for today’s awards “for taking notice of what is going on at your post and for observing what your colleagues or family members at post are doing to make a difference.”
Remembering all the foreign affairs family members who conduct this importantwork every day, AAFSW awarded:
Bureau of African Affairs (AF)– Justin Wimpey (Antananarivo, Madagascar)
Recognizing that 97 percent of Madagascar’s population uses charcoal for cooking, eligible family member (EFM) Justin Wimpey sought a better solution that would not only be technologically feasible but also 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 also reduces deforestation and saves people — primarily women — from spending many hours every day exposed to the health-damaging fumes of charcoal fires.
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) – Denis Rajic, Michele Rajic Tang, Vicki Daniel, and Ellin R. Lobb (Shanghai, China)
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 easy or regular access to food and other necessities. Through indefatigable networking efforts, the volunteer team of direct hire employees Denis Rajic and Vicki Daniel and Eligible Family Members Michele Rajic Tang 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.
Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) – Meredith Wiedemer (Chisinau, Moldova)
In Moldova, as more than 590,000 Ukrainian refugees have streamed across the border, Eligible Family Member 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 more than $200,000 in private contributions and secured partnerships with international organizations in support of Sunflower.
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) – Debra Stock (Doha, Qatar)
Debra Stock arrived at her first overseas post, Doha, around the same time as a large influx 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.
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) – J. Carlos Valles (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
In Port-au-Prince, J. 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.
On this day, Alison W. Davis received the Tragen Award. Stephanie Anderson and
Lauren Steed, the CCE-EFM Award and Dr. Joanna Anthanapoulos Owen, the Dorman
Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW’s former president (2016-2020) could not be at the ceremony so Celine C. Erickson accepted the Dorman Award on her behalf, sharing her remarks: “Thank you all so much for this great honor. I am truly humbled to be the 2022 AAFSW Dorman Award recipient! Looking back at my service to AAFSW, I am reminded of this outstanding coincidence: The announcement of my election to be the AAFSW President from 2016 to 2020 was published in the AAFSW newsletter of September 2016, the same issue which also published the announcement of the passing of Lesley Dorman in August of 2016.
I knew that Lesley was the AAFSW President from 1976 to 1981, but I never had the privilege of meeting her. However, her reputation preceded her. When I read the announcement of Lesley’s passing in the Global Link, I remember, I only wished I could make her proud of my contributions to AAFSW while I served as president. Receiving this award today, it seems that I did!” Read more here.
Celine C. Erickson closed the moving and meaningful event of the 2022 SOSA Awards Ceremony: “dedicated to the foreign service employees and family members, who do whatever it takes to make it work and to conduct the American spirit of volunteerism in so many forms in so many faraway places. This ceremony reflects on our community’s will to support our family members, when they cooperate and build bridges of understanding with the local communities we serve overseas.”
AAFSW is grateful to Moise Mendoza and Jose Dorce for brilliantly organizing and managing the event, and to the awardees, their families and the attendees from the Department of State, Global Community Liaison Office (GCLO) and AAFSW’s volunteers, members and guests for accompanying us in this journey.
Learn more about SOSA here.
By Celine Erickson, AAFSW president