August 2015
For What It's Worth

A National Honor

Robert Spencer, far right, receives two certificates from INCAP and Semillas.  

Winrock International Honors Alabama Extension Specialist Volunteer with President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Winrock Internationalrecently awarded 73 of its volunteers with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, a national honor offered in recognition of volunteer service. As an Urban Regional Extension Specialist from Alabama A&M University, I was recently one of such recipients for my previous international assignments in El Salvador and recent assignments Myanmar. My work in El Salvador focused on evaluating Extension methodology, and work in Myanmar focused on food security through improving small ruminant production practices and marketing opportunities.

As a volunteer, I found these assignments to be personally and professionally rewarding. Helping people help themselves is a contribution that makes sense to me. I was not only proud to be of service to people in need throughout the world but working with different cultures and languages improved my presentation and interaction skills with my Extension work in Alabama.

  Post-training group photo of Robert Spencer , center back, with a group of field technicians and farmers.

DeAnn McGrew, Director of Winrock’s volunteer programs, explained, "Volunteerism is a core American value. It connects us to our neighbors, whether they are local or global, and gives us an opportunity to use our skills for a greater good."

Established in 2003, the Award is available on an annual basis to individuals, groups and families who have met or exceeded requirements for volunteer service and have demonstrated exemplary citizenship through volunteering. As one of thousands of Certifying Organizations participating in the Award program, Winrock International confers the award to recognize the outstanding achievements of its volunteers.

The Award is issued by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation to recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making to our nation. The Council comprises leaders in government, media, entertainment, business, education, nonprofits and volunteer service organizations, and community volunteering. For more information about volunteering for Winrock International, please visit their website

I received the recognition from my international colleagues while in Guatemala for two weeks working in rural areas expanding food security by promoting: quality meat rabbit production, consumption of rabbit meat and opportunities to generate additional revenues through sales of surplus animals. This multiyear project targets families in rural communities of Guatemala where over 60 percent of households are led by single mothers with multiple children and little or no income. And, over 60 percent of the children in these households suffer from malnutrition. Their diet consists of primarily starches in the form of tortillas, pasta and rice; with limited access to vegetables and fruits, and negligible quantities of meat as a source of protein.

As a volunteer through Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer Program and collaboration with in-country hosts Institute of Nutrition of Central Americas and Panama and Seeds for the Future (Semillas), I conducted two weeks of trainings with over 45 field technicians and farmers who interact with over 1,500 families. INCAP and Semillas focus on opportunities to increase family access to nutrition and educating households on recipes that provide better nutrition. In the short-run, this project should provide nutrition for single mother households who have limited access to proteins. And in the long-run should provide home-based revenue generating opportunities. Many of these households consist of women in their late teens to early 20s, with multiple children and, through previous training, they have begun to implement "square-foot gardening."

It just makes sense to integrate "square-foot small animal production" (rabbits and chickens) and utilize the animal manure as organic fertilizer. After all, these animals can consume readily available forages and garden scraps, in situations where grain-based feed is not readily available.

At the end of the two weeks, I received two certificates from INCAP and Semillas, one for sharing my time and the other for providing my expertise.

Receiving recognition was truly an unexpected and appreciated honor. This was emotionally touching. These people have little or nothing, while all I did was help them, and they show me all this appreciation. Being able to share of my time and expertise is the greatest gift I can offer!

I hope to go back in six months with some follow-up evaluations, address opportunities for improvement in existing situations, and conduct educational outreach in new communities who wish to pursue meat rabbit production.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.