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

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.




Hi Cheryl,

How are you? I think you called up this afternoon but I wasn’t able to answer it because I have classes and I left my mobile phone in my bag.

My mother is OK but her BP is unstable. There are times that her blood pressure is high and there are times that her BP is normal so her Doctor won’t allow her to go home so that her BP would be monitored every now and then. She wanted to go home and rest there because she doesn’t like to stay in the hospital.   The doctor required her to have brain scan to know if her brain has blood clot.

We went to MU Hospital ( a private hospital ) this morning during my vacant time I don’t know yet the result because her Doctor in the hospital where she is confine wasn’t there yet. My mother is confine in a government hospital because it’s cheaper compared to a private hospital. But brain scan is expensive I paid almost Php. 5,000.00. Her medicines are expensive too for she has mild stroke. Her left body is paralyzed but we’re very optimistic that she will go back to normal.

I used my savings from my salary here in La Salle. But it’s OK I could still find a job and save money. The most important thing is the life of my mother. Benjie and Josephine are staying in the hospital. Last night I slept there and went home at 4:00 A.M. to get the food for Benjie and Josephine to lessen the expenses because it’s too expensive to buy food in the restaurant. Joven and her mother cook the food if I sleep in the hospital. But if I sleep in our house I cook the food and bring them to the hospital and goes to school.   Take care Cheryl because you just had your eye surgery..I love you and I miss you.. God Bless..   Love, Leah

A Letter from Leah

October 19, 2010

Hi Cheryl,
How are you there in Alaska? I know you’re so busy with your new job. We are fine here especially my mother.
I got my salary for my 2 months substitution in the public school last third week of September. I received Php. 30,319.00 it’s a check and I went to Land Bank to incash it. I paid all my debts since April when I had no job. I’m so happy because we have water already in our lavatory, CR and a shower it was installed two days after I got my salary so when you are here there’s no problem with water anymore. That’s my project with my salary. There’s also a faucet between our house and Joel’s house and that’s for them but they will pay one half of my water bill. I bought all the materials so that they have water also.
I love you and I miss you so much…

My friend, Kathleen Hennessy, reminded me of the deadline (today, Oct. 1, 2010, naturally) for submission of photo essays for the social activist award from PhotoPhilanthropy. This is brilliant idea and a great organization “promotes and connects photographers with non-profit organizations around the world to tell the stories that drive action for social change.”

I spent yesterday and today putting together a photo essay, Leah’s Dream. It features photographs from my visit to witness Leah’s graduation from La Salle University in Osamis City in 2007.

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 graduated in elementary education in 2007 and now works as a teacher near her village, Sinacaban, on Mindanao.

PhotoPhilanthropy offers a number of awards in different categories. I entered in the category for professional photographers and first prize is $15,000. Imagine how many scholarships and how much good work we could do with that money.

And it’s a win-win scenario. My photography and the work of Isis Initiative, Inc. will be featured on PhotoPhilanthropy’s website.

Thank you to Kathleen and PhotoPhilanthropy and to all the featured photographers for the work they do to contribute to social change. And thank you for the opportunity to share our work and commitment to provide access to higher education for women who have the desire but not the resources to get a college degree.

Still Waiting

September 14, 2010

Leah still has not received payment for the two months she covered for a teacher on maternity leave. Here’s what she wrote me in an e-mail I received today:

“I went to the Division office in Oroquieta City because my assets and liabilities has no sworn statement from the lawyer. They can’t process my salary so I went to the Public Attorney’s Office because it’s free unlike in a private lawyer. The Division office told me to leave my cellphone number so that they could inform me if there are some discripancy of my papers but they didn’t, when I texted them asking if I could get my salary that was the time they told me Oh, should come here because there’s no sworn statement in your assets and liabilities. They promise they will just text me when to get my salary.”

To make ends meet, Leah sold her pig for income. Now she’s got another job substitute teaching at a private school. She still wants to get a job in a public school.

“There’s no news yet about the job in a public school. I hope soon..

I love you and I miss you…Take care and God Bless….Love, Leah”