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2023 AAFSW Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad

Eight winners will receive the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) at a ceremony on Wednesday, November 29 at 10:30 a.m. in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State.  Director General Marcia S. Bernicat will highlight the winners’ exemplary service and present the awards at the ceremony.  Secretary Blinken will deliver a video message of congratulations.

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.

This year’s award winners include:

Bureau of African Affairs (AF) – George Cornick (Kampala, Uganda)

George Cornick’s expansive volunteerism efforts in Uganda included volunteering at the Refuge of Hope refugee center where he mentored youth while teaching them life skills, job interview techniques, and even helping to form a step dancing group.  Cornick also obtained grant funding from the J. Kirby Simon Trust to benefit the Bless a Child Foundation, which focuses on the needs of pediatric cancer patients. Cornick recruited dozens of embassy community volunteers to paint the interior and exterior of two buildings belonging to the Foundation while creating a vegetable garden and green space for youth to play in.  Cornick has also organized multiple clothing, book, and toy drives for Afghan refugees as well as Ugandans in quarantine during an Ebola outbreak.

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) – Robert Gudenkauf and Kimberly Gudenkauf (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Kimberly and Robert Gudenkauf’s efforts to help the local animal population created a network of more than 80 volunteers, connected organizations in Mongolia and abroad, and saved the lives of many animals in Ulaanbaatar.  By designing and selling merchandise, creating a GoFundMe campaign, and securing grants, the Gudenkaufs raised more than $40,000 for veterinary care and infrastructure improvements at local animal shelters. These upgrades included a water well and pump, two trailers, fencing, a residence for a shelter caretaker, and 50 insulated dog houses to help animals survive winter in the coldest capital city on earth.  They also teamed with international organizations to find permanent homes in the United States and Canada for multiple abandoned dogs.  The Gudenkaufs have appeared on television and in print and online media, and they have met with advocacy groups and high-ranking government officials to promote the animal shelters and a bill that would create Mongolia’s first animal rights law. 

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) – Jerry Case (Dublin, Ireland)

Biking enthusiast Jerry Case worked with the owners of River Cycles bike shop in Dublin to launch the Good Bike Project, which has refurbished more than 2,000 used bicycles and distributed them to displaced Ukrainian refugees in need. With their new bikes, the refugees can more easily go to school, work, and have a larger measure of independence.  The project now reaches almost every county in Ireland through a partnership with Dynamic Parcel Distribution, which picks up the refurbished bikes and transports them across Ireland.

Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) – Mandy Brown (Doha, Qatar)

Mandy Brown has been widely recognized for her work with Afghan refugees in Doha, Qatar, partnering with a group of volunteers dubbed the “Doha Do-Gooders,” and often using her own monetary resources to purchase items she uses to teach women and children marketable new skills and develop their creative abilities. Brown is a recipient of a J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust grant, which has helped expand opportunities for service among the Afghan population in Doha. Brown also provided extensive support to the local American school as well as Qatar Little League, working to support a variety of sporting competitions.  

Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) – William “Ed” O’Bryan and Alesia Krupenikava (Ashgabat, Turkmenistan)

Husband and wife team William “Ed” O’Bryan and Alesia Krupenikava helped break barriers for women and girls in Turkmenistan through their work with the U.S. based nonprofit, Technovation Girls, helping it to launch its program across the country.  The entirely volunteer run Technovation program sees teams of girls aged 8-18 follow a six-month curriculum to identify a problem in their community and develop a working mobile or AI application, as well as a business plan, as a solution. O’Bryan, a Foreign Service Officer, and Krupenikava, a Professional Associate for Public Diplomacy, spent countless hours coaching the local leaders of the program and mentoring participants throughout the first two seasons.  They tirelessly promoted the program and recruited members of the business and diplomatic communities to serve as mentors and judges, resulting in a flood of interest from all regions of the country.  Since 2021, more than 350 Turkmen girls have participated in Technovation Girls’ programming, and three teams from Turkmenistan have progressed through a pool of more than 1,000 teams to reach the semifinals of the organization’s global competition.

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) – Daniela Garcia (San Salvador, El Salvador)

Since arriving at post in 2021, Daniela Garcia has been the driving force behind the embassy community’s support of children in need at the local orphanage Mi Casa.  Garcia mobilized the embassy and Salvadoran community to raise funds for a building expansion to house additional orphan girls and led the fundraising and planning charge to create a new safe home for pregnant teen orphans, many of whom have been victims of serious abuse.  She was instrumental in mapping out counseling and support programs to help the girls and is developing a training program to teach the soon-to-be-mothers how to effectively care for themselves and their babies.

For more information about the SOSA Awards, please visit: http://www.aafsw.org/services/sosa

The award ceremony is open for press coverage.  Members of the press wishing to attend should contact Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Greenberg at 202-647-1679 or GreenbergBL2@state.gov. 

Media representatives may attend this award ceremony upon presentation of one of the following: (1) a U.S. government-issued identification card (Department of State, White House, Congress, Department of Defense, or Foreign Press Center), (2) a media-issued photo identification card, or (3) a letter from the requester’s employer on letterhead verifying his/her employment status as a journalist, accompanied by an official photo identification (driver’s license or passport).  Those who do not have a State Department building pass should allow adequate time for security processing at the 23rd Street entrance.

Source : State.Gov