Soroptimist International of America announces this year’s winners for the Violet Richardson Award and the Women’s Opportunity Award, read their stories and be inspired! And check out SIA’s new video meant to inspire and inform others about who we are!

2013 Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award Finalist: Norelis Mosquera Cabrera

The Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award recognizes girls, ages 14 to 17, who work to better their communities and the world. The 2013 award recipient is definitely a girl who wants to make her community the best it can be. Despite living in poverty she works tirelessly to help those around her. The thought of getting something in return never crosses her mind. Just knowing that the people in her community have a place to live and grow is what compels her the most.

Norelis Mosquera Cabrera grew up in Kuna Nega, the Kuna Indian village community located on the outskirts of Panama City. As a young teenager, Norelis experienced a serious illness putting her out of school for two months; upon her return she was no longer allowed to pursue her education due to her extended absence. Her only option was to attend a different school with higher tuition costs.

Norelis' parents were forced to take on more work so that she could travel the 3-4 hour one-way trip to attend the only school that would have her. Norelis helped her mother knit clothes, as well as make tamales and bread to sell. Her father worked as a garbage collector and earned up to $20 a day.

Meanwhile, the entire family, which included Norelis’ eight siblings, lived in extreme poverty and desperately needed help in other ways. “The walls in our house were rotten and being eaten by insects; the floor was often wet,” Norelis said. “There was only room for one bed. All nine kids shared it and my parents slept on the floor.”

That is when TECHO arrived to provide Norelis’ family with the help they needed. TECHO is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America. They build transitional housing for those living in unfathomable conditions and implement social inclusion programs for people in the community.

Norelis was so moved by TECHO's generous rebuild of her own crumbling home that she joined the organization to help further its reach in her community.

“They asked if I wanted to participate and become a member of TECHO. I began working as a volunteer and met others. I saw that, rain or shine, they were always cheerful. I learned many things and met many people,” she said.

Norelis is a devoted volunteer, helping to construct homes for her neighbors and others in nearby communities. Through her service, she has developed a sense of self worth and a great deal of knowledge.

“At first, no one in my neighborhood understood why I was helping TECHO. Everyone said, ‘Why are you there if you don’t get paid’? I told them I liked being there and learning. It means doing something for the community and for the other families that live the same way mine once did.”

Because of her dedication to improving the community, the Soroptimist International of Panamá Pacifico club (Mexico/Centroamerica Region) chose Norelis for the 2013 Violet Richardson Award. As recipient of the overall finalist award, Norelis received $1,000 for herself and $1,000 to help support TECHO projects. Soroptimist applauds Norelis for her selfless efforts to make her community a better place for all who live there.