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.

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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.