I want to thank the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide for their many decades of support and advocacy for Foreign Service employees and their families both at home and abroad. Like countless others, my family has relied on your good counsel to contend with the realities of Foreign Service life. I just wish I had read the “Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind” book earlier in my career – before moving and before losing my mind.
Secretary Baker directly encouraged and supported the establishment of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad because he believed that engaged citizenship was critical to our democracy and to our national character.
Through their volunteerism, the remarkable men and women we honor today have shared that timeless American ideal from Abuja to Bangkok, Pristina to Amman, and Kathmandu to La Paz. We could not ask for more honorable representatives of our country abroad.
Elizabeth Orlando more than earned the title of Embassy Abuja’s “Green Queen”. She did not just talk about the importance of environmental sustainability – she did something about it. Ms. Orlando worked with local organizations on a number of innovative projects – from equipping a school with solar power to using recycled plastic bottles for the construction of eco-friendly, low cost housing. In recognition of her extraordinary efforts, the Nigerian government named a grove in her honor on Earth Day.
Our Ambassador to Thailand wrote that James DeBose’s contributions to a center serving disadvantaged school children in Bangkok “left an indelible mark on Embassy Bangkok and its broader Thailand host community.” He organized Embassy volunteers to participate in a multi-day service event to renovate the center – installing a new roof, making repairs, and cleaning the grounds. Thanks to his volunteerism, the center’s children will have a warmer – and we all hope brighter – future.
Like Mr. DeBose, Marilyn Kott volunteered her time to help those who need it most. In 2012, Ms. Kott cofounded and ran “Clothes for Kosovo” – an organization which has since collected and donated furniture, food, and more than 1200 pounds of clothing to local charities. She also volunteered her time helping a start-up enterprise of single women in rural villages that produces and sells handmade soap and cloth shopping bags.
In Amman, Amber Boyd-Eiholzer used the occasion of Black History Month not only to celebrate diversity and the advancement of civil rights in the United States, but also to contribute to the promotion of human rights and development in Jordan. She coordinated a sold-out Black and White Ball, which raised a record $10,000 for local charities – including an organization serving some of the more than half a million Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Gretel Patch used her expertise in educational technology to enhance the life-skills of underprivileged and at-risk youth in Nepal. She travelled all over the country to work with students in local English Access Microscholarship Program centers. On her blog, Gretel has a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.” According to the country director of the Access program, Gretel didn’t just do something. She “changed many students’ lives.”
Finally, in La Paz, Megan Gallardo showed that even when our governments don’t see eye to eye, our people can still work in common cause. In addition to her volunteer work at a nursing home, an animal shelter, and a center for victims of human trafficking, Megan raised money to repair and improve a local cancer treatment facility. When she wasn’t out saving the world, Ms. Gallardo was actively touring with the Embassy’s Speakers Program – talking about great Americans like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and great American traditions like Halloween.
We come together today to also honor the recipient of the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award recognizing effective advocacy on behalf of Foreign Service family member rights and benefits. I cannot think of a more deserving winner than Bob Castro. In 2012, Mr. Castro founded PROPS -- Professional Partners & Spouses of the Foreign Service, a network that works to support the career aspirations of the spouses and partners accompanying our personnel abroad.
Year after year, our Foreign Service employees ask for expanded employment opportunities for eligible family members and cite the difficulty of sustaining their spouses’ careers as one of the most challenging aspects of life in the Foreign Service. PROPS links its members with employment and professional development opportunities all over the world – ensuring that all members of the Foreign Service family can advance their career and contribute their talents and passions.
As all of you know, there is no shortage of talent or passion in this room today. On behalf of Secretary Kerry, I want to thank and congratulate today’s winners for continuing the long and proud tradition of volunteerism in the Foreign Service. I am enormously proud to serve with all of you.
Thank you very much.