This International Volunteer Day (December 5, 2020), more than 200 AFS volunteers from around the world gathered for a global meetup—to connect with each other, exchange experiences and celebrate those with the most outstanding volunteer achievements. The event honored the tireless commitment of countless volunteers who are the backbone of AFS Intercultural Programs.

Volunteers truly define our organization and have been the core of AFS for more than 100 years,” said Daniel Obst, President & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs as he welcomed the volunteers. “Voluntary engagement strengthens communities and awakens team spirit. While we may be in different countries and communities, we are more than the sum of our parts when we work together as One AFS. Thank you for all the work you do and the incredible impact you make on the world,” he added.

The AFS Volunteer Awards Live Ceremony Was a Highlight fo the Event

AFS Volunteer Awards were presented to the 2020 winners, honoring their commitment to the AFS mission of intercultural understanding. Awards were presented in the following categories:

  • AFS Galatti Award honors longtime commitment, dedication and exceptional journey with the organization, advancing the AFS mission and creating an impact. The 2020 winner is Claudia Chiaperotti of Intercultura (AFS Italy), who has dedicated 60 years to volunteering at AFS, covering all possible tasks, from preparing and counseling exchange students, to being a member of the National Board and many national committees. 
  • Peggy and Art Howe Award honors the outstanding service of AFS volunteer families. Hendrickx-Severijns family from AFS Belgium Flanders are the 2020 winners for as all four family members—Lut, Bart, Tobias, Sam and Aiden—have participated in an AFS exchange program and are active volunteers, promoting AFS, facilitating orientations for students, participating in local and national volunteer activities, always eager to share what they’ve learned and get to know other people’s culture. 
  • Young AFS Volunteer Award recognizes AFS volunteers under the age of 30 whose exceptional contributions to the organization have made a difference. This year, two young volunteers received this recognition, Harold Stivens, AFS Colombia and Witko Tamm, AFS Sweden. Harold has shown true leadership in his local chapter of Barranquilla even during the pandemic challenges when it wasn’t possible to host students locally. Witko has supported AFS Sweden through difficult times, and continues to serve as an active trainer and camp leader, as well as the treasurer of Sweden’s National Board.

Find out more about the winners here.

AFS Volunteer Awards
2020 AFS Volunteer Award winners: Claudia Chiaperotti (Intercultura / AFS Italy), Hendrickx-Severijns family (AFS Belgium Flanders), Harold Stivens (AFS Colombia) and Witko Tamm (AFS Sweden)

Talking to Outstanding International AFS Volunteers

A panel of outstanding AFS volunteers including April Murphy (AFS-USA), Reiko Tashiro (AFS Japan), Pedro Firmo (AFS Brazil), Rohaya Md Yusoff (AFS Malaysia) and Ibrahim Louris (AFS Egypt), and Lucas Welter, AFS International’s Chief Organization Development and Strategy Officer explored key contributions that AFS volunteers make and what motivates them to be a part of this organization. From supporting exchange students and host families, meeting other AFS volunteers, fundraising, engaging in cultural activities and learning about traditions, to advocacy and representing AFS externally, AFS volunteers truly make a difference in everything they do.

The History of Voluntarism

Looking back on the history of voluntarism at AFS, Roberto Ruffino, member of the AFS International Board of Trustees and Secretary General of Fondazione Intercultura, gave new insights about the 105-year-long history of this global organization that fascinated all attendees. AFS was created as a volunteer ambulance drivers corps in the two World Wars and then transformed into a global organization that builds intercultural understanding among people from diverse backgrounds. Honoring the resilience and diverse contributions of AFS volunteers, Ruffino added, “AFS was recently referred to as the ‘golden standard’ in intercultural education by OECD. This golden standard was invented by none other than AFS volunteers, our founders, and we proudly continue their legacy.” Read more in Roberto Ruffino’s book “Where the Border Stands.

AFS volunteers enjoyed connecting with each other in small groups to exchange experiences, show their pride through their favorite AFS t-shirts and exchange activities they conduct at AFS events worldwide in this virtual gathering. 

Worldwide, there are more than 50,000 AFS volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, making up a movement of global citizens willing to help people and communities learn to live together, and build peace through intercultural understanding. Do you want to get involved, have a positive impact on your community, get to know like-minded people, and just have fun? Become an AFS Volunteer and join your local AFS organization.