International Volunteer Day Celebration 2017

Washington, D.C.—On December 5—International Volunteer Day—on Capitol Hill a broad spectrum of skilled volunteers, bipartisan congressional champions, USAID leadership, volunteer-sending organizations and experts from the private sector gathered to celebrate the contributions of volunteers to effective U.S. global development and discuss a new USAID initiative to leverage pro-bono private sector expertise to reduce poverty and promote prosperity worldwide. The Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) hosted the event with the Farmer-to-Farmer community participating. 

The heart of the day was an awards ceremony for remarkable volunteers with powerful stories of impact around the globe and here at home. VEGA awarded six outstanding VEGA and Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers for their service who hail from California, Canada, Massachusetts, Montana, Wisconsin, and Virginia by way of Texas. Scroll down to read more about the F2F Volunteers of the Year. 

Six bipartisan congressional champions were recognized by VEGA for their leadership on USAID programs and policies that leverage American generosity and private sector expertise for more effective global development.

Listen to the audio recording of the event here:

Farmer-to-Farmer 2017 Volunteer of the Year, Erin Schneider

Nomination by F2F Implementing Partner National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) 

Hometown: La Valle, Wisconsin

Erin Schneider has been volunteering with NCBA CLUSA’s Senegal Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program since 2012. She has completed six volunteer assignments to increase the Senegalese women’s economic empowerment and food security for the community. Her trainings have included organic farming, composting, vegetable production, seed saving techniques and beekeeping. Due to Ms. Schneider’s vegetable seed saving techniques, some of the farmers she worked with in 2016 are now producing enough quality vegetable seed to sell to local networks.

As a woman farmer from La Valle, Wisconsin, Ms. Schneider has built strong bonds with those she calls her “soil sisters” in Senegal. Because of her engaging trainings, these women farmers and the host organizations continue to ask for her to return. Ms. Schneider has gone beyond the traditional work of her volunteer assignments by helping foster other local partnerships. By reaching out to her now established network of local partners in Senegal, Ms. Schneider connected host organization Missirah Women’s Group with the local beekeeping organization to ensure the Missirah women would receive follow up training and support.

Ms. Schneider is a true ambassador for the F2F program, sharing with others how F2F leverages volunteers to improve global food security and natural resource management, as well as fostering cross-cultural connections. Ms. Schneider has shared her F2F experiences by hosting a roundtable, speaking at a university panel presentation and through the undergraduate courses she teaches. Thanks to Ms. Schneider, four other experts have become F2F volunteers. In addition to co-owning and stewarding Hilltop Community Farm, Ms. Schneider serves on the Administrative Council for the USDA North Central SARE Program, is the Sauk County Chapter President of Wisconsin Farmers Union, and was a recent North American delegate for the World Farmer Organization-Women in Agriculture Committee.

As Ms. Schneider wrote in her blog post from December 2016, “What is heartening in all my experiences farming and with the F2F program is that composting is a universal language farmers speak the world over…In all of the dozens of farms and hundreds of farmers I’ve interacted with through the F2F program, everyone was composting in some manner…I think we need more farmers who are willing to engage with their hands, hearts and heads to build a better world—one compost heap at a time.”

Farmer-to-Farmer 2017 Volunteer of the Year, Wayne Burleson

Nomination by F2F Implementing Partner Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)

Hometown: Absarokee, Montana

Wayne Burleson is a passionate volunteer, having completed over fourteen assignments with the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in the last decade, many times with his wife, Connie, who is also a valuable F2F volunteer expert. Mr. Burleson says he has seen far too much burning of African crop and grasslands. These fires are responsible for causing so-called naked lands, which in turn causes floods and droughts. This loss of organic carbon can lead to crop failures, food shortages, poverty and starvation. Mr. Burleson is on a mission to teach as many farmers as possible how to improve their soil quality and productivity, and therefore their livelihoods.

He exemplifies the VEGA and F2F approach of practical trainings to giving a hand up, instead of a hand out. Mr. Burleson’s F2F trainings have involved both theory and hands-on experience in the field. He has trained farmers on a range of soil health issues, including how to incorporate organic matter and grow nitrogen-fixing plants. He has shared his expertise on how to construct garden beds, seed sowing, various soil composting methods, organic methods of controlling pests and diseases and post-harvest handling of fruits and vegetables. Across Africa, he has helped farmers to dramatically improve their crop productivity, and in turn, help train others.

For example, in Mozambique Mr. Burleson trained a trainer who has become a true advocate for soil regeneration. Jardim para Vida, based in Beira, hosted Mr. Burleson who trained farmers on sustainable production, holistic farm management and crop budgeting. Mr. Vengai Rufu, the association president, now operates an organic farming school that further extends the benefits of Mr. Burleson’s training. Mr. Rufu is training other members of the community and farmers in other parts of the country on these new methods using regenerated or born-again soils.

Wayne said about his volunteering experience, “Farmer-to-Farmer assignments have opened our eyes to the world’s needs and motivated us to work harder to discover new and safer ways to feed the world. Our involvement with Farmer-to-Farmer programs has changed people’s views. They are now experiencing success, using their local resources —the making of compost —which has tripled food production, greatly lowered costs and increased profit while improving the land.”

Read more about Wayne:
CNFA Volunteer Wayne Burleson Named VEGA 2017 Volunteer of the Year - VEGA Member CNFA's website

Farmer-to-Farmer 2017 Volunteer of the Year, Matthew Amato

Nomination by F2F Implementing Partner NCBA CLUSA

Hometown: Medford, Massachusetts

As a volunteer for VEGA’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Special Program Support Project in Madagascar, Matthew Amato helped vanilla farmers successfully sell their vanilla through their co-op for the first time and was instrumental in the program’s success. This one-year F2F program partnered volunteers with vanilla farmers in Madagascar to help them create cooperatives, increase their annual income and tackle problems such as crop theft, access to finance and market linkages. Despite a demanding graduate school schedule, Mr. Amato volunteered 70 days of his time over the past year to help vanilla farmers build the capacity of their cooperatives, including giving up most of his winter and summer breaks. Through Mr. Amato’s expert training, guidance and dedication, the Avotra Cooperative and Mirary Soa Cooperative are now thriving from the sturdy foundation Mr. Amato helped them to build.

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer for Madagascar, Mr. Amato is well experienced in the country’s complex and volatile vanilla industry—and effective volunteering. He demonstrated throughout the year his commitment to the people of Madagascar and the fact that he would do whatever he could to help the farmers and nascent cooperatives succeed. He worked with local partners at the Avotra Cooperative to strengthen their capacity, specifically providing trainings on recordkeeping, financial management and stock management. He also conducted an assessment on farmers’ post-harvest handling and storage of vanilla prior to its sale. During his second assignment, he helped to manage sales at the opening of the vanilla campaign with over 500 farmer members.

“The F2F program is so successful in my opinion, because it works directly with farmers and uses a ground up, community based approach to identifying and addressing community issues and concerns,” said Mr. Amato. “While I was working in the Peace Corps I learned a local proverb that has summarized many of my experiences in Madagascar and my F2F experience in particular. The proverb translates to: people one by one are like sand, but all together we are like stone.”

Read more about Matthew: 
Success for US co-op community at International Volunteer Day Awards - Coop News

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