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.

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.

Special Delivery

August 7, 2010

Leah sent her most recent letter by registered mail. It has gorgeous stamps featuring clams, lionfish and a clown fish. Underwater marvels. And the real marvel: it reached the Isis Initiative P.O. Box in Oregon. Her previous unregistered letter never arrived.

I was excited to collect a registered letter from the Philippines this week. Leah visited Marethel Guinsayao at Western Mindanao State University in Dumingag. Marethel is the first recipient of a scholarship from Isis Initiative, Inc. She lives in a remote area on the Zamboanga Peninsula on Mindanao. Communication has been sketchy throughout her first semester at university.

Leah made the long trip by bus to pay her tuition and take photographs of Marethel and her school for us.

Leah wrote: “I think she tries her best to get good grades for her grades last semester are not so good. She asked an apology and told me that, that was because everything was new to her…We’ll just wait and see her performance this semester.”

We’re happy to support Marethel and wish her all the best as she pursues her dream to become an elementary school teacher.

Unintended Consequences

November 8, 2009

Leah arrived in Dumingag about noon on Friday. She met Marethel, our scholarship recipient, and her sister, Rosel, who’s a third year education student at Josefina Cerilles State College. Leah paid her tuition fees and Marethel is enrolled for 15 units her first semester.

Marethel will share a small room in a boarding house with her sister and another student. Since they live in a mountainous region far from the college, the sisters must live near the college in order to attend classes.

“It’s a very small room, Cheryl,” Leah said. And if Leah says it’s small…

There’s a bed and a set of bunk beds and not much else.

Leah and Marethel went looking for the landlord to pay Marethel’s rent for six months. Rosebel tried to ask Leah about an allowance for Marethel, so Leah showed them the contract. Leah said she told Marethel be thankful enough for the opportunity she’s received to go to college.

She gave Marethel our agreement, which says she accepts the Leah B. Mamhot Scholarship from Isis Initiative, Inc. We will cover her tuition, boarding room and two school uniforms. She will cover her other expenses and maintain a “B” average in school. If she doesn’t have a “B” average one semester, she will get one chance, i.e. the next semester, to raise her grades. We will fund her entire education if she continues to do well in her studies.

Leah said Marethel is very happy and she signed the contract.

Then Leah told me that Marethel’s younger sister, who was a working scholar at La Salle University, which Leah attended, had to abandon her studies. Since she’s the youngest, her family requires her to work to help support Marethel and Rosel in their studies.

We offered one young woman a college education and it cost another young woman–only temporarily, I hope–her education. This is a standard practice in Filipino culture. The younger sister and her brother will work to pay for the expenses of the two sisters now in college.

When they graduate and begin working, they will help pay for the education of their siblings.

Leah is doing the same for her family. Her brother, Benjy, 17, won a scholarship to study criminology in Tangub, where he’ll stay in a boarding house. Leah will use a portion of her teaching wages to help Benjy pay for his expenses. Benjy likes LeBron James and wants to become a police officer.

Going the Distance

October 22, 2009

How far is it to Domingag, Leah?

600 pesos, she answers.

I meant distance. On the bus.

I thought I’d get a distance in hours or days. I got an answer in local currency.

Leah can tell me the value of anything, in pesos. And she understands and appreciates the value of the her education, beyond the count in pesos. She understands and supports the value of the opportunity Isis Initiative, Inc. seeks to offer other young women.

After a few more questions, I learn it’s more than a bus ride. Marethel Guinsayao, our scholarship recipient, lives with her family in the mountains in Zamboango del Sur on the Zamboanga Peninsula.

To reach Marethel, Leah takes a jeepnee to Ozamiz City. A bus to Molave. Eventually a motorcycle to Marethel’s village. I think I’ve got that right. It will take Leah most of a day to reach Marethel’s home. And 600 pesos roundtrip.

Leah gets a week’s paid vacation from the Montessori school where she teaches, starting Oct. 31. She will use a couple of her vacation days to travel to meet Marethel and ensure she gets settled into her program at Western Mindanao State University. Leah wants to personally monitor the use of our funds. She’ll pay for the tuition, the boarding costs and the two school uniforms.

Leah will gather receipts and send them to us in the United States. She’ll keep her own records of our payments and use of funds.

Leah makes our work possible. Leah exemplifies the best of what we hope to achieve with Isis Initiative, Inc. She graduated from La Salle University, Ozamiz City. She started teaching third grade in a school near her village. And she has continued to support our work with her time, her honesty, her enthusiasm and her common sense.

And those long bus rides to make sure our money is well spent.

Thank you, Leah.

No One Is An Island

August 18, 2009

Captain Casey poses for a photo with some of the school children on Mayreau island in the Grenadines.

Capt. Cornelius "Casey" Plantefaber poses for a photo with school children on Mayreau island in the Grenadines. Casey was instrumental in raising funds to establish a local school on the island. Captain Casey died of cancer on July 23, 2009. In his memory, he asked his friends to donate money to help the school he founded.

Isis Initiative, Inc. received $1,150 in donations for the Captain Casey Scholarship Fund.

This is a new project for Isis, brought to us by our treasurer, Samanda Dorger, from her good friend Anne Stanley, a dear friend of Captain Casey’s widow, Charmia.

Our primary project offers scholarships for women overseas who have the desire but not the resources to attend college. We have just awarded a scholarship to our 2009 recipient, Marethel Guinsayo, who plans to study education and become a teacher on her island, Mindanao, in the Philippines.

The board discussed the opportunity to help the school children on the Caribbean island of Mayreau. We felt the school children’s needs met our mission’s criteria. The story of how Captain Casey felt compelled to help the children parallels in many ways the story of why Cheryl Hatch founded Isis Initiative, Inc.

When Captain Casey saw a need, he took action.

One person inspires another person, who inspires others to make a difference.