John F. Kennedy Volunteer Excellence Award

By Aara Johnson

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The VAC is excited to announce the recipient of the annual Colombia JFK Volunteer Excellence Award! It is modeled after similar awards at other Peace Corps posts. This award serves to recognize the exemplary work of our fellow Peace Corps Colombia Volunteers. Individuals had to have been nominated by another volunteer to be eligible. The nominations must have included an explanation of why the volunteer should be considered.

Criteria for nominating a current volunteer included, but was not limited to:

  • Exemplary work performance
  • Model community integration
  • Achievement of Goal 2 or 3
  • Successful overcoming of challenges
  • Strong support to other Volunteers

The Country Director convened a committee of only staff members, with consultation from the programming staff, and has selected the final award recipient. The awardee’s name will be engraved on the plaque which hangs in the Peace Corps office and recognized during his Close of Service bell ringing.

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Congratulations to the 2015 John F. Kennedy Volunteer Excellence Award Recipient: Thomas Nolan!

Below is a compilation of two separate nominations for Thomas:

Thomas Nolan is the most integrated volunteer in CII-5. He’s had an exceptionally difficult work assignment and has stuck it out to the end while finding fulfillment in a secondary project.

Thomas has dedicated countless hours to the pilot project at ITSA, he has gone above and beyond what has been expected from him, and he has given himself fully to his site. Though in some ways ITSA “aprovechared” their PCV a little too much, Thomas never stopped working hard, and when his peers asked him why, he maintained a positive attitude and always responded with some variation of this: “These students pay to receive a good education. I’m only here for them.”

Upon arrival to Colombia, Thomas was a “basic-level” Spanish-speaker. Now, he has come as far as any other volunteer, and arguably, he is the king of some fun Colombian slang. That’s because he rarely leaves site and has extensive conversations with the whole community. When his neighbors or students invite him to cultural events, he not only attends, but has been known to use his own money to pay for less financially fortunate students to attend the outing. He joined a dance group (as the only gringo) and learned all of Colombia’s cultural dances and competed in various competitions. He also joined a theatre troupe and performed a play in Spanish in various competitions and won!

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His secondary project at Fundacion Futuros Valores de Barranquilla, a foundation for orphan boys, has brought him even closer to the community. His involvement with the boys started with playing sports on the street and escalated to teaching regular English classes. The boys confide in him, and he will be truly missed when he leaves. He also has helped the Colombian employees plan and fund a new library on-site, for which he received a SPA grant.

Walking through his neighborhood is time consuming because he knows everyone. He stops to have conversations, and he knows who they are and who their families are. Though Thomas has been moved from host-family to host-family at least five times in the past two years, he has always bonded with his Colombian families. It’s almost expected that if PCVs are hanging out somewhere…for an ice-cream, for a drink, for a dance, for Carnaval, that one of Thomas’ Colombian friends or family members also will be attending as his guest. Colombians generally love Thomas, and it’s because he spends genuine time with them and tries so hard to be on the same level.

He also takes his scarce free-time time to visit other volunteers (sometimes ones who he has just met) out in their various pueblos and cities, sometimes traveling three hours just to share lunch.

One of the men working at Thomas’s local tienda scolded a new employee for trying to overcharge Thomas for bollo, saying, “No, he’s our gringo.” I think that about sums it up.

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