Environmentalist Astrid Vella has won a European award for voluntary work after she received over 12,000 votes from different countries in recognition of work carried out by Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar.

"This was a huge endorsement of our work in Malta to protect the environment," said Ms Vella.

"It is also a recognition of the way our group (FAA) has been raising environmental health issues like air pollution, water issues, quality of life issues and giving a voice to Maltese civil society," she said.

Although Ms Vella ranked fourth in the competition - organised by the Fédération Francaise du Bénévolat et de la Vie Associative (FFBA) to celebrate the International Volunteer Day on Friday - she was awarded a special jury prize for the most deserving work.

Over 98,000 votes were cast in total. Greece presenter Marie Kyriakou placed first with 56,616 votes for granting free air time to voluntary organisations.

Cypriot social worker Fotini Papadopoulou obtained 22,857 votes while Irish Marie Carroll garnered 14,654 for allowing free administrative time at a gym she runs. Ms Vella ranked fourth with 12,128 votes.

She pointed out that, while most entries to the competition included social and humanitarian voluntary work, the environmental work of FAA was considered to be of a high calibre by voters from European countries and beyond including China, Mexico, Argentina and the Vatican city.

On entering the competition - which was open to voluntary organisations within EU member states and other European countries - FAA submitted three main projects that included the battle against development in the Tal-Papa area in Birżebbuga, the scheduling of the area around Villa Bologna in Attard and the protection of the scenic sites Ramla l-Ħamra and Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo.

On Friday Ms Vella attended the FFBA's European Forum of Voluntary Work at the European Parliament of Strasbourg during which the trophies were handed out.

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