Happy Accident

January 5, 2009


In October 2007, Cheryl and Leah pose for a photo at the dock in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines, where they first met in March 2003.

In October 2007, Cheryl and Leah pose for a photo at the dock in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines, where they first met in March 2003.


The idea for Isis Initiative began by accident, literally.

After completing my scuba instructor training in the Philippines, I wrecked an all-terrain vehicle in the jungle: I was lucky to walk away with only a shattered wrist.

I arrived alone at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Batangas City on Easter weekend 2003.

 “Where’s your companion?”

The nurses, my doctors, everyone who entered my room asked the same question. Filipinos always stay with family members or friends in the hospital. They would never leave a loved one in the hospital alone. They could not fathom my situation.

Alan, the Australian owner of Asia Divers where I’d trained, understood the culture and offered to send one of the waitresses from his resort to keep me company, to be my companion. I was scared—and a long way from my own family—so I accepted his generous offer.

Leah Mamhot was waiting for me when I returned from surgery and kept me company in the hospital for three days. I learned that Leah had left her village and her schooling to find work when her father died. She needed to provide income for her widowed mother and her two brothers. She’d been a good student and had dreamed of being a teacher.

Leah was with me when I went to settle my hospital bill.  “How will you ever pay it, Cheryl,” she asked. 

I learned from the doctor who treated my wounds that an equivalent sum would pay for a college education. I asked my Filipino dive instructor if he thought it would be culturally appropriate for me to offer to pay Leah’s college tuition.

In October 2007, I returned to attend Leah’s Tribute Day at La Salle University in Ozamiz City. It was one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life, watching Leah realize her dream of becoming a teacher, like my mother. The president of the Philippines Board of Governors, Mr. Loreto Leo S. Ocampos, honored Leah as a “Face of Hope” at a prestigious awards ceremony in March 2008. 

Leah’s story inspired people in her country and in mine; so I’ve decided to create a nonprofit and continue the good work we’ve all done together. Isis Initiative, Inc.  




 “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects ones directly, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther KING, Jr.





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