Ashley A. loves Egypt as much as I do. She’s already visited Egypt once and longs to return.

She’s a student in the JRN 421 (Journalism in Perspective) class I’m teaching at University of Alaska Fairbanks. One day in class, I told the story of how I adored Mighty Isis as a young girl. For me, she represented a powerful and beautiful woman, the perfect role model. And, I, too, love all things Egyptian: the history, the culture, the art, the mythology.

When I named my nonprofit Isis Initiative, Inc., I had the mythology of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, in mind: a powerful woman who gathered what had been broken and scattered (the body parts of her murdered husband, Osiris) and breathed new life into them. I thought Isis was the perfect symbol for an organization created by a former war photographer to help fund scholarships for women who had the desire but not the resources to pursue a college education. When I started my blog, Mighty Isis: the Adventures of a Social Entrepreneur, I had Mighty Isis, the cartoon heroine in mind.

I love the sound of “Mighty Isis.” The assonance of the long ‘i.’ To this day, it sounds like an incantation, a magic spell.

I remain deeply moved that Ashley was willing to share her prized comic book, the number one of The Mighty Isis series, with me. Her father had bought it for her because he knew of her love for Egypt.

 

I was listening to an interview on NPR recently with Nicholas Kristof, an international correspondent who wrote the book, Half the Sky, with his wife, Cheryl Wu Dunn.

He mentioned that journalists usually focus on what’s wrong.

That one phrase caught my attention: focus on what’s wrong. Why not focus on what’s right, I thought?

As a photographer, I understand the concept. I am a full-frame shooter. Everything that’s in the frame is what I want in the frame. Each element contributes to the composition, the content, the emotion. Focus on what’s right.

My work with Isis Initiative, Inc. comes from a similar point of view. I grew weary and soul sick of focusing on dying children, rotting corpses and the devastation and brutality of war. I decided to make a difference helping women overseas gain access to education. Focus on what’s right.

The title of the book, Half the Sky, comes from a Chinese proverb that says that women hold up half the sky. Jody Williams, the Nobel laureate, recently said she thinks women hold up way more than half.

I agree. I think empowering women is one way to make an enormous difference for the health and welfare of our planet and the people who live on her.

And Isis Initiative, Inc. is my way to focus on what’s right.

Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel laureate, signed my journal after I interviewd her during PeaceJam at Oregon State University on April 24, 2010.

I met Jody Williams at Starker Arts Garden for Education near Corvallis, Oregon. She had joined a group of PeaceJam students for a community outreach project. I was interviewing her for a daily feature for our Sunday community section front.

As we walked up a path toward the garden, I told her that I had been an international correspondent, that I had covered conflict and its aftermath, focusing on those caught in the crossfire. I told her I never liked being called a war photographer. Sure, it sounds sexy to some people. It sounds dangerous and exotic. It has mystique and cachet, this title of war photographer. But it wasn’t the right label for me. I wasn’t interested in the bang-bang although the bullets and bombs sometimes came with the package.

In my work, I had noticed it was the men who were shooting, killing people and getting high. It was the women who were volunteering in the orphanages and the hospitals. The women were running the businesses and the markets. I focused my attention and my lenses on the women and children.

I thanked her for her work on the campaign to ban land mines. I told her it was an honor to meet her. I told her about Isis Initiative, Inc. and she told me about her organization, the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

She said she would offer us her support and gave me her contact information. I’m inspired by her willingness to engage so openly with our work and mission. I believe there are good opportunities for support and collaboration between our organizations.

Thank you, Jody, for your support, your activism and your commitment to gender justice and peace.

Justice

March 14, 2010

 

"Justice." A painting in egg tempera by Oregon artist Julie Green. http://www.greenjulie.com

I purchase art to mark special occasions in my life. When Isis Initiative, Inc. received non-profit status from the Internal Revenue Service last October, I decided to celebrate with a painting.

I had seen Julie’s painting in two separate exhibits. I asked her if she still had it and told her I’d like to buy it. And I told her why. We both thought “Justice” was the perfect choice. She gave me the friend’s plan and allowed me to purchase it in installments. It’s a beautiful approach. It gave Julie time to spend with the painting, time to say goodbye. And it gave me a way to work the purchase into my budget.

Last Thursday, on a rainy Oregon night, we shared a pot of tea and conversation in front of a fire before I took the painting home.

It was the perfect transition. It’s the perfect painting to celebrate Isis Initiative, Inc. and the work we do. Justice. Educating and uplifting women goes a long way to creating justice in our world.

And I love supporting and celebrating an artist and a friend like Julie Green. And I love having her painting to celebrate our work. And I just love the painting.

“A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation and disease, and given them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential.” — Audrey Hepburn

My friend, Theresa Hogue, who works at Oregon State University, posted this on Facebook today. Thank you, Theresa.

Ms. Hepburn’s insight is perfect for International Women’s Day. And it speaks perfectly to the mission of Isis Initiative, Inc. It speaks to the power of education. I would add “the power of educating women.”

Check in the Mail

January 18, 2010

I went to our post office box on Saturday and found a plain white envelope addressed to Isis Initiative, Inc. No return address. I opened it to find a card and opened the card to find a check. I unfolded the check. $5,000. I read the number twice. Then I read the handwritten “five thousand” to be certain. (I won’t reveal more without the donor’s permission.)

I immediately thought: How many women can we send to college? I was giddy at such a generous and unexpected donation. Then I picked up the phone and called our board members to share the great news and my joy.

The money is great. And the check is so much more valuable than the numbers after the dollar sign. It’s a statement of support. It’s a testament of faith. It’s an acknowledgement of the value of the work we do and it’s a miracle. It demonstrates the possibilities when hearts and stories connect. When one  person’s story, one person’s words moves another person to act. It’s a shiny example of the power of women to make a difference in the lives of other women…and thereby make a difference for everyone.

I am humbled and elated. And inspired.

Leah Mamhot sent me all the receipts for Marethel Guinsayao's first semester in college, including this receipt from a seamstress for her two school uniforms.

Leah sent me the receipts for Marethel Guinsayao’s first semester of college on Mindanao  in the Philippines, including the one for her uniforms: $20 buys two school uniforms for four years of college.

I spent $25 on a book for my father for Christmas. Over and over again, I’m reminded of the power of a small amount of money to make a big difference.

We have 246 fans of our Isis Initiative, Inc. Facebook page. I posted a note stating if every one of our fans donating $20, we’d be well on our way to sending another young woman to college.

I haven’t yet received a response to my letter to President and First Lady Obama. I remain hopeful. They’re busy and they’ve got a lot on their minds and their schedules, no doubt.

If you’d like to donate, we have an easy PayPal button on our Web site at isisinitiative.org.

As always, thank you.