Astrid Vella, one of the founders of the environmental NGO Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), won the first Volunteer of the Year Award, presented by SOS Malta.

She was handed a trophy designed by young sculptor Damien Darmanin in a ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

Dr Gonzi praised the award organisers, saying this was an expression of the value of volunteering. He said Malta had a "treasure" in its great number of volunteers. Ms Vella called for the setting up of a state-funded centre for NGOs, which would save the organisations, expenses on rent that could be better used elsewhere.

SOS Malta also pushed for an NGO centre, especially for those smaller organisations that needed to be assisted.

The selection board for the award was made up of seven young people involved in different aspects of society.

The chairman of the selection board, Alan Deidun, said there had been 11 nominees. The winner was chosen according to the established criteria that were motivation, self-sacrifice, dedication, effectiveness and the value of the activities organised in society.

Ms Vella will now travel to Strasbourg as Malta's nominee for the European Volunteer of the Year Award 2008.

She said her award reflected the importance that needs to be given to the environment. Despite being a volunteer for only two and a half years, together with her organisation, she managed to achieve many results through hard work, research and balanced arguments. The award ceremony was hosted by SOS Malta chairman Lilian Miceli Farrugia in her Ta' Xbiex home.

SOS Malta announced it had just received approval for a €1 million project sponsored by the EU.

The other nominees were Maria Delicata, Maria Annunzot Attard, Doris Cusens, Desiree Falzon, Grace Borg, Gloria Bugeja, Christine Brincat, Kenneth Abela, Jean Paul Fenech and Valerie Agius.

The Nationalist Party congratulated Ms Vella and praised all volunteers who give up their time and energy to non-governmental organisations.

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