By Heidi Howland
No single word can describe the 2018 Foreign Service National (FSN) award winners. These exceptional individuals work at U.S. missions abroad and exhibit professionalism, resilience and persistence on a daily basis. As citizens of the country in which they work, FSNs sometimes risk their own safety and well-being for that of others, often to uphold the values of human rights and democracy that the U.S. promotes. The work and dedication of FSNs is vital to the Department’s diplomatic efforts and effectiveness.
From taking the initiative to combat violent extremism to helping curb North Korean nuclear ambitions, the seven award winners this year, representing all six regional bureaus, are unparalleled in their work. Engaged at high levels at post, they are the absolute best at what they do, using their analytical thinking, interpersonal, cultural and language skills to fulfill vital goals of their mission. The awards presented to them represent the immense appreciation of the work they have done and continue to do for the benefit of the Department, the U.S. and the American people.
A political specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Intifaskiwen was chosen as the overall Department of State FSN of the Year “for providing access to and analysis of real time information on developments in the opaque, violent regions of northern Mali to advance peace and combat violent extremism.”
Housseini Intifaskiwen | FSN of the Year | AF | U.S. Embassy in Bamako
Q: In your view, what is an important U.S. policy priority in Mali?
A: I think the priority in Mali today is regarding the context of conflicts, to help Malians to possibly get peace and security and to restore the democratic mechanism because it was a little bit destroyed with the conflict. And to really help to reinforce justice. This is our challenge today in Mali.
Q: What would you like people to know about the work of Embassy Bamako?
A:The work we do here at the embassy every day is a great benefit not only to the United States but to my country Mali as well. Working there as a political specialist and knowing this fact means that we have to continue to progress and bring our effort to help the embassy because it’s in the interest of our country.
Victoria Borisova | Director General’s Award for Excellence in Human Resources | EUR | Mission Russia
A human resource specialist for Mission Russia, Borisova had the distinct honor of receiving the Director General’s Award for Excellence in Human Resources. Her award was given “in recognition of [her] outstanding service to the Human Resources operations of the United States Mission to Russia during a historically challenging period. [Her] unwavering support of [her] colleagues is a testament to [her] strength of character and professionalism.” Borisova “played a critical role in planning, organizing and managing” during this time, while also “successfully managing the implementation of Merit-Based Compensation (MBC) in Mission Russia” at the same time, making a smooth transition to the new system for locally employed staff.
Juan Cui | EAP | U.S. Consulate in Shenyang
A political and economic specialist who works as a DPRK assistant and environment, science, technology and health (ESTH) assistant at the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang, Cui was given the award “for her outstanding work as mission China’s primary liaison to officials, business and civic leaders along the China-North Korea border, and for her critical contributions to the U.S. Government’s understanding of the impact of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”
Q: How is the work you do at the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang challenging?
A: We have to communicate with local governments and local associations and the local people, and we also have to communicate of course with the American officers who have different ideas with the DPRK issue there … it’s challenging for LE staff to communicate in the middle … I work as an interpreter sometimes and also for cultural understanding and help them understand each other’s opinions.
Q: What makes you good at your job?
A: [My supervisor] thinks that my language ability helps a lot. I am a people person. It’s my kind of strategy to communicate very smoothly with different parties, and it’s easy for me to get a key point at first, “he’s that kind of person.” We need to use different strategy with this person and that person. It makes my job easy to use my strategy to communicate in a smart way.
Lyudmila Nazarova | EUR | Mission Russia
A training specialist and human resource assistant supporting Mission Russia, Nazarova was chosen for her “extraordinary perseverance over the past year in superbly out processing approximately 200 American staff during two year forced drawdowns.” During this time, she obtained exit visas and de-accredited over 125 American personnel within a two-week period. As personnel left, Nazarova’s workload increased, yet she continued to perform superior work and continues to play a crucial role at Mission Russia and for the Department overall.
Betty Amireh | NEA | U.S. Embassy in Amman
A media specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Amireh was given the award “for unprecedented outreach to the Jordanian press resulting in hundreds of positive stories for the United States…for non-stop media monitoring and analysis … for 24 years of sustained outstanding performance and commitment to the United States.”
Q: What is rewarding about your work?
A: It’s just when you feel like you’re making change. For young people, what they need is just a chance, a break, to do something better in their lives, and if we can help and at the same time tell our story, that’s what we want.
Interacting with people, outreach, making a change. When you feel that you changed somebody’s life or you did something good for them, you open new opportunities for them, you taught them English or sent them on an IVLP project. … We go out and meet them and see what challenges they have, what we can do to help. You can see the difference after that. You reach out to them, and they give back.
Nazreen Fathima Marikkar | SCA | U.S. Embassy in Colombo
A political specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Marikkar received the award for her outstanding reporting and counsel to the U.S. ambassador and embassy, especially during anti-Muslim riots and a state of emergency in Kandy, Sri Lanka, in 2018.
Q: What work did you accomplish that contributed to receiving this award?
A: I’m from a Muslim community, and we are a minority in Sri Lanka. For the last six or seven years, there has been some targeted attacks against the Muslim minorities. …There was an election in February which went against the present government and then immediately thereafter there was a riot, and it lasted almost four, five days. I covered the riot in detail. The riot happened in a city called Kandy—which is my hometown—which in Sri Lanka is known as the most diverse and the most harmonious city, so people couldn’t believe it could happen there. …I covered the riot while it happened and contributed to the reporting that went out at post. And post-riot I also did a visit and post-riot reporting to D.C.
It’s quite depressing but it also contributes to the State Department being aware of what’s happening and having an appropriate response. I think our ambassador did a great job in coordinating with the Sri Lankan government during these various crises which happened over the span of three months and urging the Sri Lankan government to action. Diplomatic pressure can have good results, and I feel like I was a part of that.
Gloria Maria Rodriguez | WHA | U.S. Embassy in Managua
An INL program specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, Rodriguez was chosen for her tireless efforts to push forward U.S. foreign policy goals in an extremely difficult environment during the spring and summer of 2018 in Nicaragua.
Q: How important is it that the United States continue to play an engaged role with the Nicaraguan people in diplomacy and foreign policy?
A: It is very important because Nicaragua could—and even the president said it yesterday—Nicaragua could become a threat to the United States easily because of the way things are being handled there. Through the support that we get mainly from the United States—we have had the support from the entire international community, but United States stands for it that lead the support to us—and without it, it would be a lot harder for Nicaragua to find a solution to the crisis and go back to democracy. With your support it would be faster it would be easiest and it would be the peaceful way, the correct way to do things.
Q: In your work, what do you find to be the most rewarding in terms of working toward a goal?
A: When I see and talk to people, every time I go out to site visits and talk to the beneficiaries of the program, and I find that they throughout the years have learned something and that they are skilled now, skills that they didn’t have before, so that makes me happy. … For them it’s been easier for them to survive, and it’s because of what the United States did for them, through our programs. It wasn’t me; I’m just there as a tool to help people. But it’s been with the money of the United States, with the money of all of you, from your taxes. I’m proud to be a part of it. It feels like you’ve done something. You’ve helped someone at least.
Heidi Howland is deputy editor of State Magazine.