News and Events

Dr. Bruce Williams

This article was originally written by Dr. Bruce Williams and published by Winrock International here.

Name: Dr. Bruce Williams

Current title/profession: President and Owner of Agronomy and Horticulture Services

Current hometown: Wilmington, North Carolina

Areas of expertise: Agriculture enterprise development, timber business, horticulture 


Name of project: Asia Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Location of the project: Bangladesh

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International


I have participated in nearly 50 F2F Assignments in the past 22 years but this is my first visit to Bangladesh. The level of poverty, the small farms, the density of agricultural activities, and the tropical conditions were all that I expected and more. However, I was not prepared for the Bangladesh people. I found the people of the Satkhira region of southwest Bangladesh delightful. They were open, courteous, sharing, appreciative, diligent, and smart. I will look forward to a return visit in the future.

My assignment focused upon a 5-day training of small scale youth farmers in basic techniques for commercial vegetable seed production. Rice and jute are the primary cash crops of the region, but we focused upon tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, pumpkin, and gourd seed production. After reviewing basic plant biology, I covered seed production technology. The final day concluded with a field trip to a government-operated rice breeding project and foundation seed producer. Although on a much grander scale, participants were able to see basic processes, seed treatments, seed testing, and storage of agricultural seed in their home territory.

Dr. Williams shows the farmers the symptoms of insect attacks and prevalence of powdery mildew problems on cucumber leaves during a field visit

Dr. Williams shows another farmer the damage and color change on eggplant leaves due to an aphids’ attack

The conditions were not perfect. The electricity went on and went off and temperatures in the seminar room were sometimes hot, but no one complained. Participants came up to me many times and said how much they enjoyed the presentations and appreciated the information I was sharing with them. During the field visits, farmers showed enthusiasm for information and techniques in plant protection and cultivation.

The experience was truly humbling. I sincerely hope my efforts will help some of the Bangladeshi people to attain their goals and dreams.

Catherine Rasmussen

"Catherine has been an Extension Educator in Leadership and Civic Engagement since 1997.  Along with her prior career as a secondary teacher, she brings over thirty years of experience in educational programming. Her work focuses on building leadership capacity and enhancing collaboration among communities to address public issues. She has co-authored a facilitation guidebook and is a trainer of leadership development workshops organizations and state and national leadership cohort programs." 


Profession: Extension Educator, Leadership and Civic Engagement, University of Minnesota

Home State: Minnesota, U.S.

Career Summary: Catherine has been an Extension Educator in Leadership and Civic Engagement since 1997. Along with her prior career as a secondary teacher, she brings over thirty years of experience in educational programming. Her work focuses on building leadership capacity and enhancing collaboration among communities to address public issues. She has co-authored a facilitation guidebook and is a trainer of leadership development workshops for organizations and state and national leadership cohort programs.

Areas of Expertise: Emotional intelligence, personal leadership styles, communication and conflict, strategic visioning, team building, and effective group processes.

Education: MS, Continuing Studies, emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction BS, English and Speech, Minnesota State University, Mankato 

Language Spoken: English


Name of project: Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Country: Morocco

SPSP Grantee: University of Minnesota Extension

Duration of Assignment: Program was conducted in three one-week sessions implemented over nine months during June 2014, October 2015 and February 2015.

Volunteer Assignment and Impact: The Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco included virtual and in-person trainings. The goal of the trainings was to increase the leadership competencies of rural farmers to enhance the development of local leadership in farmer-based associations in the Meknes-Tafilalet region. The completed work plan for the program was based on a three-tiered process. The first tier of the program involved volunteers from the University of Minnesota Extension (U of M) and the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership (MARL) program. The volunteers worked together to prepare working drafts of agendas and activities   to present to the team of four faculty from the National School of Agriculture, Meknes (ENA). The second tier of the program included a training-of-trainer (ToT)   component on leadership of local farming organizations, which targeted the four Moroccan professors from ENA. The ToT included virtual and in-person working sessions. The third tier required the ENA faculty to teach leadership components to 22 farmers from 17 different associations across eight value chains (honey, milk, apples, olives, seeds, dates, medicinal plants and meat). The farmers learned processes to help their associations to set goals and strategies to achieve them. 
An evaluation of the Rural Leadership Farmer-to-Farmer Program revealed positive changes among farmer networks and an increase in leadership competencies. The evaluation data indicated a clear increase in the number of farmers and frequency they communicate with other members in their association and external to their association. Pre and post assessments of leadership competencies also indicated positive changes in increased knowledge of strategic planning, decision making and critical thinking, which were all key concepts taught in the training. In addition, the farmers showed a general commitment to ongoing learning and actions by self-organizing strategizing ways to continue the cohort because they all found value in learning from each other and from the ENA and Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteers.

Russ Zick

Russ Zick (left) and Gezim Mecktec of Kosovo exchange design ideas to improve the dryer system used to dry herbs such as chamomile and mint.


Name: Russ Zick

Current title/profession: Project Engineer of Facility and Utility projects

Current hometown: Denver, Colorado

Areas of expertise: Mechanical engineering, postharvest processing, supply chain management, forensic engineering

Education: Masters degree in business administration specializing in international business and entrepreneurship, Bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Improving the Agricultural Sustainability in Kosovo

Location of the project: Kosovo

Organization that sent the volunteer: Engineers Without Borders USA

Through summer 2017, EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps (ESC) will be working alongside Kosovo’s Agricultural Growth and Rural Opportunities (AGRO) Program, which is administered by USAID through Tetra Tech. Kosovo’s citizens are the poorest in Europe, with most of the population living in rural towns outside of the capital. Economic opportunity is limited by common reliance on inefficient farming practices. Primary factors that hinder production are limited farm mechanization and lack of technical expertise.

An ESC team is currently on the ground providing engineering support to agriculture businesses who work with the farming community throughout the country. These highly skilled volunteers will work on assignments to evaluate, design and improve the process to bring agriculture products to the commercial market in Kosovo and for export throughout Europe. Kosovo’s value chain products  include apples, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, peppers, tomatoes, gherkin, cucumbers, lettuce, asparagus, medicinal and aromatic plants and dairy.

Volunteer Impact 

In summer 2016, Russ Zick, a project engineer, traveled to Kosovo to help partners of Tetra Tech team at the Agriculture Growth and Rural Opportunities (AGRO) office in Pristina, the capital and largest city in Kosovo. In his role, Russ provided mechanical engineering services, supplier identification and assessment, and assisted with project and talent identification.

When Russ landed in Kosovo he noticed how fortunate they are to have productive land and a capable farming culture. He noticed Kosovo also recognized the need to upgrade its food and food product processing capacity to expand export opportunities to the European Union and ultimately improve the country’s economic viability. With EWB, Russ accomplished some amazing in roads to achieve this goal. He worked with I Seferi diversifying its already established business by offering the nation’s first table grape pre-cooler to their more than 50 growers. He aided Eurolona in creating a system that pasteurizes all milk products and its 20 small local dairy farms. He consulted with Produkt Natyrale to support the facility's first seed harvest. Finally, he assessed the energy sources for Fruitomania, reducing its high energy costs.

With great volunteers like Russ Zick, EWB-USA, USAID and VEGA are able to continue to upgrade Kosovo’s agribusiness industry, improving the lives of Kosovars across the country.

“For me personally, my time in Kosovo provided an opportunity to be further engaged with the international development sector. It’s exciting to watch the evolution of EWB-USA’s continued partnership with USAID, VEGA and Tetra Tech, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for the Farmer-to-Farmer program!”

Carmen Byce

Name: Carmen Byce

Current title/profession: Agricultural and Extension Development Specialist

Current hometown: College Station, Texas

Areas of expertise: Project management, capacity building, education


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Ethiopia

Location of the project: Ethiopia

Organization that sent the volunteer: Catholic Relief Services (CRS)


The Melka Abune Aregawi Nunnery runs various community and welfare services including managing 40 acres of small scale agricultural production of citrus and vegetables with sales supporting school programming and housing and food for over 115 orphaned girls. The girls lost their families through HIV/AIDS, civil wars, displacement, famines, and other social problems, and are drawn from different regions of Ethiopia. The nunnery was recruited as a Farmer-to-Farmer host based on the role it plays in training youth on horticulture, bee-keeping and dairy production. The nunnery also manages a primary and secondary schools for the orphans, which also serves the local community, helping the social integration with the community.  Although the nunnery is giving commendable services to meet the needs of the girls, socio-economic, emotional and psychological challenges remain. The nunnery is not well equipped to handle these additional challenges, and does not have the capacity to hire trained experts. It is for this reason they requested for a F2F volunteer to train on leadership, life-skills and basic entrepreneurial skills.

Carmen Byce, a Program Coordinator at Texas A&M Agri Life’s Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and a co-owner of a small farm in Franklin, US, travelled to Ethiopia in December 2015 and trained 45 persons (42 orphan girls and 3 nuns).  The girls were mostly in grades 8-10, most of them teenagers. It was the first time that the orphan girls got such exposure to realize their own potential and build their skills outside of formal education. It took some time but they started interacting more freely, and even notable improvement was seen in their confidence during and after the training days.

The training provided opportunities for the girls to explore their natural responses to different environments and situations. Competitive team building exercises, short stories and play presentations as well as guidance on developing personal goals and action planning prepared them to become confident, competitive and strong leaders. The positive response and results of the training were immediate, and have continued to have lasting impact for the orphans and nuns.

The trained girls are now mentors and trainer of the younger girls, they exhibit emotional maturity and have enhanced leadership and conflict resolution abilities. According the mother superior, these girls are role models within and outside the nunnery and will excel in their fields of choice.

The positive experience went both ways. Carmen had this to say; ‘Volunteering with Farmer-to-Farmer is without exaggeration, a life changing experience.  When I first learned of this opportunity to volunteer in Ethiopia, through my membership in American Agri-Women, I knew immediately I wanted to volunteer to support these efforts, and more specifically to support leadership development amount girls and young adults that have faced such struggles in their lives. Not to my surprise, I gained a wealth of knowledge.’ and irreplaceable experiences from my kind hosts as well as the girls I worked with.’

This article was written by CRS. Download the PDF below. 

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Phil Smith

This article was originally written by Phil Smith and published by ACDI/VOCA here

Name: Phil Smith

Current title/profession: Chairman of ONE Global Limited

Areas of expertise: Banking, risk management, private consulting 


Name of project: West Africa Farmer-to-Farmer Program

Location of the project: Ghana

Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA


In April, I arrived home from Ghana after completing an ACDI/VOCA volunteer assignment with the USAID-funded West Africa Farmer-to-Farmer Program to help a company—once Ghana’s largest poultry grower and processor—measure their assets for growth.

Originally, I planned to evaluate their properties and help them arrange financing. But upon arrival, my objective grew to include a loan request, business plan, and training materials for recruiting outgrowers to achieve maximum processing production. We had limited time to do the intensive work set out for us. But my host worked with me to ensure that we completed each part and presented to the group on the final day.

By the time I left, the poultry company was ready to secure financing and had the tools necessary for the lender to complete the request. Their revised business plan included five-year projections of operations and cash flows. They also learned how to recruit broiler outgrowers who would buy feed and day-old-chicks for subsequent sale to the company for processing. Evaluation reports for 13 of their properties could be used for collateral for the new financing they sought.

The assignment provided an excellent learning opportunity for me, as they always have. I started volunteering with ACDI/VOCA 22 years ago, beginning in 1995 in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The following year, I completed another three visits to both countries.

Smith in Accra
Smith (left) with the general director after a debriefing in Accra

After retiring from banking in 1994, I purchased two H&R Block franchises in California to manage part-time while also volunteering. Once H&R Block bought those franchises in 1997 to convert into company stores, I realized how much I enjoyed ACDI/VOCA volunteer assignments. I had wonderful translators who helped me learn the culture and traditions of the former Soviet Union and each country. I knew I wanted to travel and experience more.

Since then, I have served at central banks in Russia, Armenia, Montenegro, Afghanistan, and Iraq for USAID and USDA projects.

In Ghana, I immersed myself with the local people to understand their traditions, food, and lifestyle, leaving behind preconceived notions of what I would see or do. Instead, I simply enjoyed each day and all the people as life moved forward. I would encourage anyone, at any age, to do at least one volunteer assignment. Be careful though. You may get hooked!

Dr. Steve Johnson

This article was originally written and published by Partners of the Americas.

Name: Dr. Steve Johnson

Current title/profession: Crop Specialist at University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Current hometown: Presque Isle, Maine

Areas of expertise: Potato storage, agriculture, higher education


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Caribbean Region

Location of the project: Guatemala

Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas


The distance between Maine and Sibinal, Guatemala is over 3,600 miles. Sibinal is a mountainous municipality found at the base of the Tacaná volcano in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala. It has a population of approximately 27,000 people, the majority of whom belong to the Mayan ethnic groups of Mam or Kaqchikel. For the past ten years, the Guatemalan National Potato Federation (FENAPAPA) has supported 2,000 small scale potato producers in the San Marcos region.

Like on some potato farms in Maine, potato producers in Sibinal save seeds. However, seed potatoes in Sibinal have recently developed bacterial and fungi infections. As producers save seeds from season to season, the diseases are transmitted each year, causing significantly smaller potatoes and consistently lower yields. While some producers wanted to explore using high-quality certified seed potatoes, they are expensive and FENAPAPA did not have access to information or technical assistance on how to maintain or produce certified seed potatoes.

In November 2015, Partners of the Americas connected with Dr. Steve Johnson, an expert in potato storage and production with almost 30 years of experience as a crop specialist at the University of Maine, and sent him to Guatemala as a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to work directly with FENAPAPA. During the first week of his assignment, Dr. Johnson visited several different plantations and storage buildings. He met with individual producers to assess their main storage and management issues, as well as addressed their production concerns. The following week, Dr. Johnson organzed a two-day training for FENAPAPA producers on how to produce certified seed potatoes. After the workshop, producers would not only be able to improve their potato production, but they also would offer a new product to sell to other producers. Dr. Johnson also conducted workshops on proper management and storage of seed potatoes.

As a result of Dr. Johnson’s visit, FENAPAPA improved their facilities by adding wind and temperature control. He also left a series of other recommendations to greatly improve storage areas. By February 2016, FENAPAPA had already adopted all the recommendations. FENAPAPA producers eagerly await the next potato harvest in October 2016 to see if, finally, their potatoes are disease-free and have increased yields. Dr. Johnson said:

“The trip had a dramatic effect on me. I have a passion for international agriculture, particularly helping people eat better and improve their life through better agricultural practices. Guatemala is a poor nation with half the people living below the poverty line and 15 percent at extreme poverty (various internet sites). The famers I met and hopefully helped were pleased beyond words that someone with knowledge would come to the Guatemala highlands and walk on their farm to help them. The less they had, the more they wanted to give. This would move anyone. More people need to see what I saw, feel what I felt, to realize how fortunate some people are, simply by where they were born. I look forward to returning to Guatemala for future assignments. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is terrific.”

David Pearce

"After implementing changes introduced by David, Abdi Gudina Dairy Cooperative increased membership by 20; annual organizational revenue (from membership dues) increased from $1,624 to $2,200; annual sales increased from $954 to $18,838; and net annual income increased from $405 to $1,540."



Home State: North Dakota, U.S.

Country: Ethiopia

Core Implementer: Winrock International

Volunteer Assignment and Impact:

 During his volunteer assignment in Ethiopia, David trained  members of two dairy cooperatives, Abdi Gudina Dairy Cooperative and Chefe Kersa, on how to  improve their organizational capacity and increase their incomes. They were trained to redefine the roles and responsibilities of different committees, introduce new participatory procedures within their meetings, revise their constitution and by-laws, and establish regular reporting systems on finance and physical performance to the general assembly. In addition, both cooperatives developed an action plan for one year, and called a general meeting to disclose and endorse the plan with their members. With these changes in place, the members are now sharing agenda points before meetings, exercising their free voting rights, and accessing important information on the cooperatives’ status every quarter. In addition, both cooperatives implemented a democratic leadership style to ensure transparency. 

According to Gaarii Hurrisaa, one of the cooperative members, , David’s training  restored the dairy operation. For example, the members regained their confidence and commitment to the Cooperative, the amount of milk collected and sold increased, and the quality of the milk improved, due to the members’ high engagement s in controlling quality factors and consumers’ willingness to pay for quality. Hurrisaa also added that, “we also know where the money goes now as things become more transparent.” All of these positive changes amounted to an increase in twenty new members, an increase in the organization’s annual revenue (from membership dues) from $1,624 to $2,200, an increase in annual sales from $954 to $18,838; and an increase in net annual income from $405 to $1,540.
The Chefe Kersa Dairy Cooperative, which was nearly nonfunctional before David’s volunteer assignment, has also experienced positive impacts as a result of his training. For example, the Cooperative instituted a more democratic leadership style, which has allowed members to regain their confidence in the cooperative’s leadership and management. In addition, their ability to improve their record keeping capabilities has helped them analyze their actual income expenses and profits. Overall, in the past year, Chefe Kersa’s membership has increased by 32 members; annual sales have increased by $4,420; net annual income increased by $3,549; and the members shared dividends of $1,722, for the first time in three years. 

Mike Sturdivant

"We found happiness without indoor plumbing! They face so many barriers, but are so grateful for what they have. We took conservation coloring books and gave these to the children—the kids had never seen a crayon. [The gifts] brought big smiles to the children. The generosity of the Myanmar people often brought us to tears." 

Name: Mike Sturdivant

Current title/profession: Soil Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service

Current hometown: Chatham County, North Carolina

Areas of expertise: Management practices, capacity building, soil conservation, food security, climate change


Name of project: Asia Farmer-to-Farmer

Location of the project: Burma

Organization that sent the volunteer: Winrock International

Mike Sturdivant is a soil conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a department of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Chatham County, North Carolina. He works with farmers to incorporate best management practices and trains new USDA employees across the U.S.

Mike volunteered on an USAID-funded project to train 40 agriculture extension agents in Myanmar on best management practices, food security, climate change and gender analysis. Climate change, Mike found, is widely acknowledged in Myanmar, where everyone from the children to the elders is aware of the rising temperatures and sea levels and more severe storms. In advance of his trip, Mike worked closely, almost full time for two months, with the Winrock Program Manager to begin to develop a presentation, review reports on previous trainings and learn about farming conditions in Myanmar. His wife Margaret, a nurse, joined him (at their own expense) on the trip and prepared a presentation on nutrition and health. Once on the ground, Mike and two interpreters, one with specialized agricultural knowledge and the other who could speak local dialects, spent two and a half weeks visiting farms, where Margaret took detailed notes and pictures. Mike was struck by how comfortable he felt talking with farmers because their experiences resonated with issues experienced by farmers he’s been advising his whole career. The four-day training Mike led was well received by the Myanmar extension agents, who had a hunger to learn new practices. Mike provided recommendations, using the photos and examples he’d gathered on the farm visits, about laying out farms, animal waste, reforestation, and, perhaps most critical, a metric conversion system and best practices for spraying herbicides and insecticides.

Mike had been extremely busy with work and exhausted before he left for Myanmar, but he now has a different appreciation for work. What Mike learned from the Myanmar farmers, and has passed on to his clients in North Carolina, is to make do as best you can with the resources and equipment you have, rather than always buying the latest technology. At the request of organizations in and around their home community, Mike and Margaret have already shared their experiences with about 200 people.


Dr. Ashraf Hassan

Name: Dr. Ashraf Hassan

Current title/profession: Manager of Research & Development at Daisy Brand

Current hometown: Dallas, Texas

Areas of expertise: Food safety, food science, research


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Location of the project: Lebanon

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


Associate Professor of Dairy Science at South Dakota State University, Dr. Ashraf Hassan, recently completed a successful two-week volunteer abroad assignment in Lebanon. His visit was made possible by the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) program, which is being led by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). While on assignment in Lebanon, Dr. Hassan helped a small dairy company gain a competitive advantage by improving sanitation and expanding their products to include cheddar, feta, soft mozzarella, pizza, braid, and Gouda cheeses.

“I look at such volunteer assignments as opportunities to help small producers and support the mission of our Dairy Science Department and South Dakota State University,” explained Dr. Ashraf Hassan. “I also learned about the dairy industry in different parts of the world. Dairy products and the export of their ingredients plays an important role in the US economy.”

Prior to working with Dr. Hassan, the Lebanese company manufactured local white cheeses and an organic, strained, salted yogurt called Labneh. It’s one of very few companies in Lebanon that manufactures organic local dairy products, and Hassan knew adding organic international cheeses would give them a competitive advantage.

“My objective was to adapt the cheese making protocols to fit within the facilities available in the plant, without putting a burden on the company to invest in new equipment,” he said. Hassan shared plant sanitation and manufacturing best practices to help the company reduce cost, shorten its processing times, and eliminate major sources of contamination.

The host explained, “I was very happy when Dr. Hassan came and saw my cheese production site and equipment. I was afraid he [would] turn his back and leave [because] it had so many hygiene problems—plus we didn’t have the technical knowledge about new types of cheese production—but he was extremely helpful in assisting me through the progress.” He says Dr. Hassan’s assistance will enable him to expand his product line and, hopefully, increase sales.

While in Lebanon, Hassan conducted a cheese-making workshop at a medium-sized dairy company organized by the Lebanese’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In addition to the time Hassan spent with the dairy industry, he also visited the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

“My goal was to explore collaborative possibilities and create opportunities for SDSU Dairy Science faculty and students,” he said. “It’s very important to share the needs of the dairy industry around the world with our dairy manufacturing students who will lead the dairy industry in the near future.”

This article was written by Land O'Lakes International Development. Download the PDF below. 

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Josh Felsk

This article was originally written by Land O'Lakes International Development. 

Name: Josh Felsk

Current title/profession: Food Safety Inspector, Michigan Department of Agriculture

Current hometown: Lansing, Michigan

Areas of expertise: Food safety


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Middle East and North Africa

Location of the project: Lebanon

Organization that sent the volunteer: Land O'Lakes International Development


Since 2014, Lebanon has been facing a food safety crisis with foodbourne illnesses on the rise. In order to maintain the health of citizens and ensure the safety of exported food products, the country needs to build the capacity of governmental food inspectors in food safety. In March 2016, Land O’Lakes International Development sent Josh Felsk, a Food Safety Inspector from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, to Lebanon through the US Agency for International Developmentfunded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Control of food Safety in Lebanon is the responsibility of several governmental authorities, but the Ministry of Economy and Trade is in charge of all consumable products placed on the market, including food. While in Lebanon, Felsk worked closely with this ministry to raise the bar on food inspection. He trained inspectors on best practices in food examination, sampling, investigation techniques and other relevant topics.

Felsk shared his practical experience with more than a hundred food inspectors (36 males and 69 females) and 20 food business operators, building knowledge and skills for better performance and more efficient work output. Attendees learned about the Michigan State Food Safety Code, new inspection methods, and techniques that peers follow in the US, and were able to validate their own. Group work, open discussions and questions ensured an interactive and productive atmosphere.

Classroom training was just half of Felsk’s assignment. He also made field visits to more than four facilities, including a bakery, restaurant and two supermarkets where he was able to witness and compare different practices. Twenty inspectors (nine males and eleven females) joined Felsk for the first visits, which allowed them to have a more hands-on training with the expert. The Consumer Protection Directorate is pleased with the knowledge that Felsk was able to share and has requested similar follow-up assignments focusing on field visit trainings with US.-based expert volunteers.