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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the AAFSW Annual Award Ceremony for The Secretary of State's Awards for Volunteerism Abroad


Remarks
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
The Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
December 6, 2011

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Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Thank you Patricia for that kind introduction. Let me add my own welcome to all of you to this wonderful awards ceremony for the Secretary of State’s Awards for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad. I know that Secretary Clinton would have liked to present these awards herself, but she sends her congratulations from Geneva.

I’d like to thank the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide for your fifty years of support and advocacy for Foreign Service households at home and abroad. Thanks to your efforts, the State Department is more than simply a government agency -- we are truly a family.

As members of the Foreign Service family, we hang our figurative hats in many different countries throughout our careers. Each posting is much more than a new job -- it is a life-changing experience for employees and their families. And part of what makes each new place a home is how much you invest in it.

On this front, the men and women we honor today have truly gone above and beyond -- they haven’t just invested in their adopted communities, they’ve helped transform them. Each of our awardees has started a project or institution that will benefit others for years to come.

I want to take this opportunity to personally commend each of the SOSA winners for their extraordinary work. You should be very proud of the positive impact your efforts have had on individuals and communities in every region of the world. You are goodwill ambassadors in the finest sense of the term.

Mick Davis provided comprehensive assistance to an orphanage and impoverished community in Kisumu, (Kéy-sue-mu) Kenya. Whether buying the pipes to complete and install a water treatment system, or personally changing the bandages on a child recovering from a car accident, Mick went the extra mile to make sure hundreds of children in Africa have greater opportunities to succeed.

Sean Meyers wanted to do more to connect with the local population when he arrived at Embassy Rangoon. So he took the time to find out how he could help improve the welfare of contract guards, janitors and gardeners who were not embassy employees and often struggled to get by on modest salaries, without medical benefits. With the support of the Chief of Mission and Rangoon’s Locally Employed Staff, Sean set up the American Burmese Contribution Fund. This self-sustaining fund will help local contract staff defray medical bills, school costs, and other financial hardships, and it will knit the American and Burmese communities in Rangoon closer together.

Chong Farquhar (Far’ kwar), who, I understand, is represented by her daughter today, jumped into action when she arrived at Embassy Yerevan. She volunteered at a local orphanage for special-needs children. But after seeing how those children were often left on the sidelines to watch other children play, she spearheaded the creation of a new, safe playground specifically to help children with physical challenges. Today, those children have a stimulating and joyful place to play.

Matthew Meredith was studying Arabic in Tunis when the revolution began earlier this year. He recognized the historic importance of the moment and rose to the occasion, leading a seminar that helped spark the formation of two new NGOs. By reaching out to the leadership of the U.S. League of Women Voters, he helped launch a promising partnership between the brand new League of Tunisian Women Voters and its American counterpart.

Nam Nguyen (Nahm Nu-yen) arrived at our Consulate in Chennai with his partner and immediately recognized the lack of resources for the LGBT community in such a large city. As the catalyst for Chennai's first-ever Pride Month celebration -- now it its third year -- he helped the LGBT community in Chennai find a voice, and fostered greater awareness and acceptance of LGBT rights within the Consulate and the broader community.

Finally, Maria Del Carmen Miller cofounded Quito Cares with several other Foreign Service spouses and continues to be a highly enthusiastic volunteer. Quito Cares supports several Ecuadorian charities and connects Mission families to service opportunities. In this way, Maria has helped those in need while strengthening the mission community. Quito Cares has raised more than $10,000 and provided invaluable services to its community.

As Secretary Clinton wrote for the AAFSW 20th Anniversary book last year, “What we do as volunteers reflects not only on ourselves as caring individuals, it also says something important about our country and our values.” Each of the men and women we honor today embodies the best of our American spirit and ideals.

I am proud to serve alongside such fine colleagues and wonderful humanitarians. Each of you is a credit to the Foreign Service family and to our country. Congratulations, and thank you.



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