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Service projects net SOSA honors.

The 2015 winners of the Secretary of State Awards for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA), one from each of the six geographic bureaus, pursued volunteer activities ranging from HIV awareness to the Hong Kong Little League. The awards were presented Nov. 10 by Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom.

Established in 1990 on the initiative of James and Susan Baker, the awards are supported by former secretaries of state, the Green Family Foundation and other donors, and administered by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), a nonprofit volunteer organization for the Foreign Service community.

One winner, Ernesto Luna, created an English language program for the Slovak Diplomatic Police force while posted r in Bratislava. The program lets officials improve their English skills, but as the officials lacked the needed resources, Luna volunteered to teach them. Using a grant from the Public Diplomacy Innovation Fund, Luna purchased electronic tablets, which allowed the students to study at home and during long shifts. He designed interactive online lessons and homework assignments for the students' needs and I professional interests.

Although police officers needed time to adjust to learning online, Luna said he knew the program was a success "when they started sending emails over the weekend asking for new exercises."

At the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, a post characterized by travel restrictions and lockdowns, Foreign Service spouse Karen Forsyth pursued what she called a "vision of service and connectivity among people." Forsyth formalized and managed a household donation effort to benefit Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as poor Lebanese families, convincing the General Services Office to install collection boxes on the compound. "My motto has been 'small things can make a big difference,'" she noted. To boost morale and build community, she hosted pancake breakfasts and game afternoons, often including Lebanese staff, a tradition that has continued since her departure.

Another winner, DEA Special Agent Shannon Argetsinger, arrived in Hong Kong seeking a way for his 7-year- old son to play baseball. He soon found himself coaching and serving as president of the Hong Kong Little League (HKLL), overseeing 33 teams, a position he said "requires just as much passion as my paid job." Argetsinger reformed the league's 1973 charter, which excluded girls, and today both boys and girls compete as HKLL All-Stars in the Asia-Pacific Tournament.

"We were the only team to beat Taiwan," he said, "and if you know baseball in Asia, you know what an achievement that is." Argetsinger also successfully built bridges among cultures, uniting members of the Japanese, Korean, Western and local Chinese communities in HKLL and his own team.

"Looking for an opportunity to give back to the embassy community," the winner from the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde, Department of State spouse Juliette Marsham-McClure, volunteered as interim manager of the American Employees Recreation Association. As a person who tends to "get 100 percent involved," Marsham-McClure reorganized and revitalized the organization, overhauling its finances and management. She revamped the embassy cafeteria, including its menu and staff training, and led the organizing of the 2015 July fourth celebration.

In the community, Marsham-McClure noticed local women using expensive imported hair products, despite the availability of natural alternatives such as shea butter, and offered her knowledge of alternatives from African-American sources. Her free hair care classes and workshops now educate women about these affordable and high-quality local products.

In Turkmenistan, where private charitable and educational efforts are officially discouraged, Sunny Stimmler felt challenged as she sought to provide much-needed local assistance. The spouse of the public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat began cautiously, first strengthening the International Women's Network with social activities and new fundraising efforts. More than $12,000 was raised for the group over three years at events such as a holiday bazaar that brought together expatriates and host-country participants to celebrate local and foreign cultures. The funds were used to donate mobility devices, exercise equipment and other supplies those with physical disabilities.

She also used her skills as a teacher and writer to lead weekly workshops and writing seminars. "I volunteer to serve others because I recognize that I live a life full of abundance and richness," Stimmler said. "I try to share that abundance with others, because I believe that those of us who are privileged should do whatever we can to lessen the injustices and inequities that surround us."

Carolynn Poulsen, spouse of the assistant regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, assisted a small NGO called International Community of Women Living with HIV/ AIDS Chile. Poulsen worked on several fronts to address HIV issues in the country, including a campaign to establish universal access to female condoms. (A law has since been enacted by the Chilean Senate for their distribution in all public health centers.)

She also provided educational workshops on sexual and emotional health, worked with local and national media to combat fears and misinformation about HIV-positive individuals and improve knowledge about HIV transmission, and engaged the Ministry of Health and National Women's Services on policy affecting women living with or vulnerable to HIV "Reaching outside the expat comfort bubble, joining a multicultural team, and absorbing the vast amounts of knowledge and experience held by local counterparts is a unique and irreplaceable experience," Poulsen said.

Also at the SOSA ceremony, Stephanie Arnold, human resources officer at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, won the Champions of Eligible Family Member Career Enhancement Award for breaking through a 17-year impasse in the bilateral agreement on work permits and increasing the number of EFM positions at her post from four to 13. Sheila Switzer won the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award for her support of Foreign Service family members, and the author received the Lesley Dorman Award for service to AAFSW.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker, in an interview conducted for the SOSA award's 25th anniversary, praised the Foreign Service community's generous volunteerism, saying it "really tells a lot about America." He said the community "needs to be aware, observant and willing to nominate people who have exhibited these forms of generosity and volunteerism." For information about nominating volunteers in 2016, contact office@aafsw.org.

Ernesto Luna, fifth from right at front, stands with members of the first group of students to graduate from the English language program he created for the Slovak Diplomatic Police force. Photo by Natalia Pindrochova

Carolynn Poulsen participates with ICW Chile in an International Women's Day march, representing the Campaign for Access to the Female Condom.

Photo by ICW Chile

The 2015 AAFSW award winners pose with Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom. Shown from left are Shannon Argetsinger (SOSA), Patricia Linderman [Dorman Award), Ernesto Luna [SOSA), Sunny Stimmler [SOSA), Higginbottom, Stephanie Arnold [CCE-EFM award), Sheila Switzer [Tragen Award), Juliette Marsham-McClure [SOSA) and Karen Forsyth [SOSA). Not shown is Carolynn Poulsen [SOSA).

Photo by Robert M. Stewart

Juliette Marsham-McClure, at front, prepares for the embassy's fourth of July celebration with three members of the Rosa Parks Grill Cafe staff.

Photo by Embassy Yaounde

Sunny Stimmler poses with members of the Ashgabat International Women's Club.

Photo by AAFSWphoto

Shannon Argetsinger chats with the pitcher of the Hong Kong Little League team he coaches.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Argetsinger

By Patricia Linderman, president emerita, American Foreign Service Worldwide
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Title Annotation:OUTSTANDING VOLUNTEERS
Author:Linderman, Patricia
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2016
Words:1215
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