Ceremony To Honor Winners of the SOSA and Tragen Awards

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
December 4, 2012

The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube

Thank you, Patricia. It is truly a pleasure to join you today on behalf of the Secretary to recognize the exceptional service of the winners of the 2012 Secretary of State’s Award for Volunteer Service Abroad and the DACOR Eleanor Dodsen Tragen Award.

I would like to start by taking a moment to pay tribute to the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide. For over fifty years, you have provided support and advocacy for thousands of Foreign Service households both at home and abroad. My wife and fellow Foreign Service officer, Lisa Carty and I, and our two daughters, were among those who have benefited and I thank you for all that you do on a daily basis to make it easier for our families to manage this demanding lifestyle.

We’re here today to recognize several members of our Foreign Service family who have gone above and beyond their everyday responsibilities. They have taken their work outside the formal meeting rooms and walls of the embassies and consulates and embraced their host communities as their own. They represent the very best of the American values of public and community service and have transformed the lives of many around them.

All of our winners have done truly extraordinary work and I want to take this opportunity to personally commend each of you. I’m deeply impressed by your accomplishments. You are remarkable ambassadors of goodwill and represent the best of what America can do abroad. Let me talk briefly about each of our colleagues we are honoring today.

When Karl Deringer first visited the Rwandan village of Bwiza, he knew that nothing else he would do in Rwanda would be as important as his work in this small village. Karl was enchanted by the rich, irrepressible spirits of the village's 170 residents, but heartbroken by their poverty and susceptibility to sickness and disease. Karl resolved to help. Visiting Bwiza weekly for nearly three years, Karl worked to install a rainwater collection system to replenish the village’s scarce water supply and oversaw projects to plant crops and raise rabbits so that the village would be food secure.

Cassie Brenn noticed that young people in Hanoi were eager to speak English and learn about American culture from a typical American. So Cassie started a program of “conversation hours” at the American Center of Hanoi -- bringing over 100 Vietnamese together to talk to each other - in English - about life in America. Cassie’s conversation hours covered topics as diverse as Neil Armstrong and the tooth fairy, and more serious topics like living with disabilities and overcoming other challenges. Outside the Center, Cassie the teacher became Cassie the student, learning from her new Vietnamese friends how to navigate the crowded streets of Hanoi and travel like the locals.

Soon after her arrival in Macedonia, Elizabeth Shaffer found that Macedonian children with autism had few options for organized care. There were no integrated daycares, and no early diagnostic or treatment centers in the entire country. This all changed, almost singlehandedly, thanks to Elizabeth, who became a voice for those who could not easily communicate their needs. Elizabeth, ever the cheerful and relentless campaigner for the interests of children, led the charge to found a Macedonian NGO focused on special needs children. She elicited the help of Macedonia's first lady to improve public awareness about autism and to raise funds to open centers that specialized in care for children with autism.

Jan Cote-Cartwright has made the art of practicing compassion a rule to live by. While posted in Tel Aviv, Jan transformed the lives of dozens of victims of human trafficking by helping to collect household items like food, clothes, and cleaning supplies for those residing in shelters across Israel. Motivated to do more, Jan recognized that unless these young women had other stable sources of support, they would remain vulnerable to abuse. So Jan put her problem solving skills to good use and won a grant to found sewing centers in victims’ shelters, so that residents could generate their own incomes, and eventually, get back on their feet.

Dr. Chuck Wright is a regional medical officer who decided he wanted to make his talents available outside Embassy walls. Inspired by his wife Ellen -- a 2001 SOSA honoree -- Chuck took his medical expertise into urban New Delhi, where he mentored a high school medical club and taught local doctors disaster relief. Although he didn’t have much equipment or many supplies to work with, Chuck not only made things work, he made things fun, too. Basic medical procedures were practiced on oranges, and embassy officers standing in as disaster "victims" were covered in ketchup-stained bandages to simulate profuse bleeding. His methods were unorthodox, but the results are long-lasting, and today, hundreds of young people in urban Delhi are better off because of Chuck.

Amy Zimmerman left an indelible impression on the people of Brasilia through her work with the region's most disadvantaged -- its orphaned children. Amy saw young people with enormous potential who just weren’t being given a chance. So, she did her best to give them one. Working with a school for disadvantaged children and orphans, Amy recruited forty volunteers from five different countries to help teach reading, arts, music, and sports. She made sure her students had a solid meal every day and worked to establish a library inside the school. Leaving no detail unattended, Amy put together a sustainable fundraising plan for the future, ensuring that when she departed Brazil, project T.E.A.C.H. would not depart with her.

Finally, I would like to honor Tom Gallagher with the Tragen Award for his tireless advocacy for Foreign Service families, for the equal rights of male and female officers, and for the rights of LGBT Foreign Service officers. As a career development officer in 1972, Mr. Gallagher was successful in assigning the first-ever tandem couple. Tom has also been a pioneer in other important ways. In 1973, Tom came out and became the first openly gay Foreign Service officer—this was at a time when you could be fired for being gay. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. We owe so much of the progress we’ve made to Tom and his peers, who, despite threats and attacks, were determined to serve their country, and have paved the way for so many LGBT officers ever since.

It would be incomplete to wrap this up without saying that Secretary Clinton and I admire all of you deeply and are very thankful for all you have done. The impact you have had on the Department and on the world in which all of us serve is deep and enduring. You inspire all of us to go above and beyond the normal call of duty and I very am proud to serve alongside you.

Congratulations, and thank you.