On December 5, Winrock nominee Neelam Canto-Lugo was named the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Volunteer of the Year at VEGA Alliance’s International Volunteer Day Forum and Awards Celebration in Washington, D.C.
Canto-Lugo completed her first assignment with Winrock’s USAID-funded F2F program in rural Nepal in May 2016, working with the Women’s Development Advocacy Center (WDAC). There she trained women, youth and community organizers in valuable entrepreneurial skills, from technical proposal writing to communication strategies. The Farmer-to-Farmer program sends volunteers all over around the world to teach farmers new skills and innovative techniques.
After her assignment ended, Canto-Lugo continued to raise funds and collect computers for WDAC’s digital literacy project, which provides computer training to economically disadvantaged women in Nepal’s Dhanusha district and then places them as teachers in rural schools. She also raised funds for WDAC’s micro-enterprise acceleration project, which provides resources to empower select small business owners. To date, she has raised nearly $10,000 and has received 12 donated laptops.
Canto-Lugo returned to Nepal for a second assignment just three months after the close of her first. More than 200 women attended her interactive training sessions.
VEGA, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance, brings together a network of nongovernmental organizations and their volunteers to partner with USAID and promote growth in the developing world. In a statement, VEGA CEO and President Michael Deal praised Canto-Lugo not only for her technical expertise, but for her one-on-one relationships with people on the ground.
“Neelam exemplifies the kind of impact highly skilled volunteers have in combating poverty, promoting prosperity and engaging communities abroad and at home,” he said. “Volunteers like Neelam convey the best of American values and forge partnerships through person-to-person diplomacy that helps to create a more stable and secure world.”
On the day after the VEGA Forum, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Ca.) presented Canto-Lugo with a congressional commendation, praising her for her service.
In her acceptance of the Volunteer of the Year award, Canto-Lugo thanked Winrock for its “mission of sustainable economic growth worldwide, and of dignity to humankind by the eradication of poverty.” She also expressed deep appreciation for the women and youth she has served, and continues to serve, through WDAC.
“I was supposed to go and train them, to help them, but I can’t tell you what they have given me. They have given me selfless love, service, hospitality,” Canto-Lugo said. “These women are brave, resilient, smart — and they have tremendous challenges, challenges of poverty, of child marriages, of a very strict caste system, of human trafficking. But they still represent that tremendous spirit of serving others, of hospitality.”