A Christmas card from Leah

December 27, 2012

Leah Mamhot spends time with her classmates before her last final exam at La Salle University in Ozamis City on Mindanao in the Philippines.

Leah Mamhot, second from left, spends time with her classmates before her last final exam at La Salle University in Ozamis City on Mindanao in the Philippines. October 2010 Copyright 2010 Cheryl Hatch All Rights Reserved

Leah is the inspiration for Isis Initiative, Inc. (If you don’t know the story, click on the link.)

A few weeks ago, I received a Christmas card from Leah. I had been calling her for days, trying to reach her in the aftermath of Typhoon Bopha. When I looked at the map on the news, it looked as if the storm has passed right over her village of Sinacaban on Mindanao.

Her letter was postmarked Nov. 21, 2012. Well before the storm.

“Dear Cheryl,

How are you? I’m praying to God that you and your family are okay after typhoon Sandy. But I guess it didn’t affect Texas and Oregon.”

She continues:

“Anyway, I bought a motorbike with sidecar last Oct. 27. Our neighbor is renting it…I’m saving the money for Benjie and Joven’s allowance.”

Leah now has a government job teaching in an elementary school near her village. With her income, she is able to provide support for her mother, who is paralyzed after a stroke, and she’s sending her two nephews to school. Joven is studying to be a mechanic and Benjie is is studying criminology.

Leah signed her letter:

“Thank you so much for uplifting our economic status.”

Of course, Leah did the heavy lifting. She went back to school at 31 and graduated with honors and recognition. She taught in private schools and in temporary positions, all the while keep her eyes on the prize: a government job with benefits. Leah persisted until she got her dream job.

And now she’s helping her family. She told her nephews they don’t have to pay her back for her support. She did ask them to build their parents a nice home. They live in a wooden structure now. Leah wants them to build something more solid.

Like the future she’s created for herself and her family.

I finally reached Leah by phone last week and learned that she is well and her family and home were unharmed. She reminded me it’s been too long since we’ve seen each other.

I haven’t seen Leah in five years. I made a promise to myself that I’ll spend next Christmas with Leah and her family.

NOTE: If you’d like to learn more about Isis Initiative, Inc., please visit our website at isisinitiative.org

N'tuma Bangura, 22, of Freetown, is the first recipient of "Leah's Dream" scholarship in Sierra Leone. She tested into the second year of her nursing program.

In an earlier post, I wrote that we had learned of a young woman, Lillian G. N. Baio, in Sierra Leone, who would be an excellent candidate for our first scholarship in the war-ravaged country. Lillian’s foster family moved and Lillian is not able to continue her studies at present.

We are lucky to be working with Abdul Koligbonda Lebbie, who runs the Network on Disadvantaged Children. He located four more young women who are highly qualified and keen to attend college. Since this is our first year in Sierra Leone, we chose to select one scholarship recipient. Next year, we’ll look at our funds and Ms. Bangura’s success and decide how to continue. We are committed to funding Ms. Bangura’s entire university education.

Here’s what she wrote in her application essay (without corrections):

“I believe education is a right for all. This is appeared in the human rights documents Universal Declaration Human Rights–UDHR, UN Security Resolution 1325.

As an educated nurse/medical doctor, I personally will benefit economically as I will be well paid and will increase my respect in society. This will be able to help me educate my future children who will not suffer like me in terms of marginalisation.

I believe education will help me  rise up above poverty and become a pillar in my family to help others.

It is my dream to establish a medical centre that will cater for the less previledge. I will also use my skill to increase awareness on health and sanitation in my community. My focus will be on maternal health, infant mortality, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

As a teenage girl, I grew up in a community plague with high rate of illiteracy and teenage pregnancy. It is my desire to mitigate the above situation with will hlep to increase participation in my community and Sierra Leone as a whole.”

We are honored to help support Ms. Bangura’s pursuit of her dream.

African Wisdom

September 16, 2011

‎”If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation.)” Ghanaian proverb.

This African proverb in Betty Press’ new book, I Am Because We Are, speaks directly to our goals and mission with Isis Initiative, Inc.

With Betty’s help and contacts, we are expanding our program to Sierra Leone and preparing to review applications from several candidates for our next scholarship.

Thank You for Your Service

September 13, 2011

Leah Mamhot and her mother, Rosalia Mamhot, 73, with Isis Initiative founder Cheryl Hatch, waiting for a ride to town. They are going to attend Parents' Tribute Day at La Salle University in Ozamiz City in the Philippines, where Leah lives and received her degree in Elementary Education with a major in English.

Next month Isis Initiative, Inc. will celebrate three years of service.

It started as a gesture of thanks that became the seed of an idea that bloomed into a grass-roots international non-profit.

Many of you know the story: how I skipped covering the Iraq War only to injure myself in the Philippines. The young woman, Leah Mamhot, who sat by my hospital bedside, had dreams of attending college and becoming a teacher. The tuition and fees were beyond her means; I offered to pay her way.

When friends–and strangers–heard the story of Leah’s dream and her hard work, they offered to help.

I created Isis Initiative, Inc. with a lot of support from friends and family. From lawyers at Jeanne Smith and Associates in Corvallis, Oregon to Louise Barker and Mike Corwin at OSU Federal Credit Union to Mike McInally, publisher of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, who ran a December holiday story about our fledgling efforts.

Isis Initiative, Inc. is a shared accomplishment. And there are three people–friends and former colleagues–who stepped up and have stayed the course. They have volunteered and served as board members since day one.

Samanda Dorger teaches journalism at Solano Community College in Napa, California, and works with the students at their college newspaper, The Tempest. Sam and I attended grad school in the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University, worked at the Naples Daily News (FL) together and have found ways to meet for adventures in Paris, Lahaina and Anchorage over the years of our friendship. Sam is our treasurer…though her real talent and contribution is design. She created our website and our newsletter.

Melanthia Peterman is a my former colleague at the Associated Press, a wife and mother of two who runs her own business, Little Sprouts Gardening. Melanthia is our secretary and she has offered me the sanctuary and hospitality of her home and garden many times. We frequently hold our board meetings in a teleconference from her Seattle dining room.

I’ve known Alice Anderson since she was a baby. Her mother and father and I attended Oregon State University together…and worked on the college paper. Alice is a senior at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. She brings youth and fresh ideas to our table. She created our Facebook presence and convinced me to embrace social media.

This month, I’m sending them my thanks..and a gift…for their service.

A young girl in Mali looks at herself in a mirror. This photograph appears in the new book, "I am Because We Are" by Betty Press.

I found the perfect gift…a book by women celebrating women and their wisdom: “I Am Because We Are” by Betty Press.

I first met Betty Press when she and her husband, Bob, were living in Nairobi, Kenya and working for the Christian Science Monitor. We were all covering the famine and civil war in Somalia. They were generous, kind hosts, offering me shelter and hospitality in their home when I would return from the madness of Mogadishu.

Bob and Betty returned to Africa, this time to Sierra Leone, in 2008, when Bob received a Fulbright. They have now helped us identify five young women in Sierra Leone who are candidates for scholarships.

Betty’s photographs and her beautiful book are indeed the perfect gift. Purchasing the books, I support the decades of humanitarian and documentary work of an esteemed colleague. Offering the books, I share the stories and wisdom of African women with my friends, who’ve joined me on a journey to help women get access to a college education…and wherever that journey may lead them.

Thank you for your service. Samanada. Melanthia. Alice. Betty.

A Nigerian woman cleans rice in this photograph by Betty Press. View Betty's work and her new book at http://www.africanwisdominimageandproverb.com.

Lillian G. N. Baio poses for a portrait in her Sunday best in Sierra Leone. Lillian has begun the application process for a scholarship from Isis Initiative, Inc. She wants to pursue studies in Peace and Conflict. Photo by Betty Press

We are excited to announce we plan to offer a scholarship to a young woman in Sierra Leone. Lillian G. N. Baio completed secondary school with financial support through a program and grant by the International Rescue Committee.  She wanted to continue her education, yet there were no additional funds available. She wants to major in Peace and Conflict studies and we want to help.

Sierra Leone is slowly recovering from 11 years of brutal civil war, which ended in 2002. If you’ve seen the movie “Blood Diamond” or read “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, you know something of the war’s depravity and devastation. The average annual income is Sierra Leone is $220. The adult literacy rate is 27 percent (Source: UNESCO EFA Monitoring Report 2009), one of the lowest in the world.

We are grateful to friends of Cheryl Hatch, Bob and Betty Press, who recommended Lillian for a scholarship. Bob and Betty worked for years as journalists in Africa. When Bob received a Fulbright grant, the couple spent a year from 2008 to 2009 in Sierra Leone.

We expect to pay about $850 annually for tuition, room and board, books, uniforms and other expenses.

You can learn more about Isis Initiative, Inc. and our work at www.isisinitiative.org. You’ll find a link to our PayPal account if you’d like to support Lillian’s education.

Leah’s Latest News

August 7, 2011

Leah has sought a teaching position in a public school near her village for more than two years. Twice she’s been next in line for an available position and twice the position has been given to someone with connections to the administration.
Here’s the latest news she sent in an email:
Hi Cheryl,
How are you? I received the post card you sent, thank you so much. I sent already the receipts of Marethel’s tuition fee last semester and this semester.
Cheryl, I’m here in Puerto Galera I arrived here last Thursday. I will try my luck here and my friends are helping me to get a teaching job in the public school. I am very disappointed there in my place. I haven’t see the Congressman only his staff and they said they will only give me a recommendation which they did when he was still a governor but the Division office won’t honor that one.
Joel and his family are the one taking care of our mother.  I’m still hoping that I could get a job. I would always call my mother because she doesn’t want me to leave her but I told her that I’m doing this for her.
I love you Cheryl and I miss you so much..
Love, Leah
It’s frustrating to the board members and donors of Isis Initiative, Inc. that Leah has worked so hard and has not been able to realize her dream despite all her efforts.
After her graduation, then Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos honored Leah as a “Face of Hope.” He’s now serves in the national legislature as a representative for Misamis Occidental. I met Mr. Ocampos in 2007 when I attended Leah’s graduation. I intend to write him and ask him to look into Leah’s situation.
We’re concerned about funding the education of young women in the Philippines if they are unable to put their education and their desire to teach and serve into practice after graduation.

Waiting on a dream

February 5, 2011

I spoke with Leah last night. It was early evening in Fairbanks, noon in Sinacaban.

At first, we had a hard time talking over the noise of barking dogs in her neighborhood. We shared news. Her mother remains paralyzed on her left side. She can longer eat solid food. Leah said she has to blend everything, even rice, to feed her mother.

She’s happy because she got another temporary teaching job at a private school, Medina College, in Ozamis City. She teaches K-1 and K-2 in the morning and K 3-5 in the afternoon. The salary is much lower than a public school job. She makes 5,550 pesos (about $110/month) compared to the 17,000 pesos with benefits she would make at a public school.

Leah has taught as five schools in the past three years since her college graduation. Twice she was in line for a public school position. Twice  local politics and nepotism blocked the path to her dream.

On Feb. 18, the administration will meet again. There are two open positions in her local school. It’s Leah’s turn. She’s daring to dream once more.

When she had a temporary public school job, Leah was able to pay for her mother’s medicine and medical bills. She paid for her brother Benjy’s college tuition. He was studying criminal justice and planned to have a career as a police officer. She made improvements to their small cinder block home, including indoor plumbing and a C.R. (comfort room, i.e. toilet). I joked and told her that I didn’t have a C.R.; I explained the outhouse behind my cabin.

“You don’t have to go very far in the cold, do you?” she asked.

She’s grateful for her job at the private school, but Benjy had to quit his studies. He just started a new job as a janitor. Working six days a week, he’ll earn about the same salary as Leah, 5,500 pesos/month.

“Pray for me please, Cheryl.”

Leah asked me to pray that her dream will come true, that she can get a teaching job in a public school. She’ll have a salary that will support her family. Her brother will be able to resume his studies. She’ll have benefits and a classroom of her own.

That’s always been Leah’s dream.

“I don’t want to be a principal or an administrator. I want to be a teacher in my own classroom,” she said.

Please join me in praying for Leah, praying that the dream she’s worked so hard for, the dream she’es held on to for years, will come true.

 

 

 

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