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.

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.

Dear President Obama

October 30, 2009

When President Obama announced that he’d give the $1.4 million from his Nobel Peace Prize award to charity, a thought flashed through my mind.

Write him a letter. Ask him to consider donating a portion of the money to Isis Initiative, Inc.

I wrote him. And I asked my friends and supporters of our work to write him a letter, too. If you believe in what we’re doing, please write him a letter.

I believe. I believe the request will reach his ears. And I believe he’ll respond. Join me in making an appeal and making a difference for women around the world.

Below is the text of the letter I wrote him on October 22, 2009


Dear President Obama:

I walked into a 7-Eleven the morning the Nobel committee announced you had received the Peace Prize.

“You like President Obama,” the cashier asked. “Yes, I do,” I said.

“I can’t talk to you,” she said, handing me my change. “Why?”

“Why does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?” she responded.

“Because he took a stand,” I answered.

“Against what?”

“Not against something,” I said. “He took a stand for something.”

I am inspired by and proud of the way you’re leading our country: with dignity and civility, vision and strength. I am heartened by your commitment to improve the quality of life for all on our planet.

I am writing to you, Mr. President, because you said you would donate your $1.4 million ward to charity. I ask with the same humbleness with which you acknowledged the Nobel Peace Prize, that you consider donating some of that money to Isis Initiative, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit I created. www.isisinitiative.org

We are a small, grassroots organization that promotes healing, connection and communication through education and the arts. We are particularly committed to offering scholarships to women overseas who have the desire but not the resources to pursue a college education.

For more than a decade, I worked to make a difference as a photojournalist. I covered the aftermath of war and its devastating affects on women and children. I used to hope that my photographs would change the world. www.isisphotos.com

In 2003, I chose not to cover the second Iraq War. You can read the complete story of how an accident in a jungle in the Philippines inspired me to create Isis Initiative, Inc. https://isisinitiative.wordpress.com/leahs-story

I now believe the real power for change exists in the relationships and good will between individual human beings. We change the world one person at a time.

President Obama, I believe dedicating some portion of the money you’ll receive from your Nobel Peace Prize to Isis Initiative, Inc. will go a long way to creating new opportunities for women, and thereby, for all of us.

Thank you for your attention and consideration. And thank you for the fine example you set with your leadership.


Cheryl Hatch



September 16, 2009

Yesterday I went to OSU Federal Credit Union to wire funds to the Philippines. Marethel Guinsayao will start college next month and we’re sending money to cover tuition, school uniforms and her boarding room.

In the past, when I sent funds for Leah’s tuition, we used a wire transfer…and the fees added up fast. $25 for the credit union. Another fee for the middleman, usually JP Morgan Chase in Manhattan. And then one more fee from Allied Bank in the Philippines.

I was dismayed because I realized the fees represented a substantial percentage of the money we were sending. That’s money I’d rather use for women’s college educations.

Louise Barker, my financial consultant, suggested a new approach: Vigo, a phone-based system. With Vigo, we can send money directly from our account in Oregon to an account in the Philippines for one low fee: $10. That’s a much better use of our funds.

I’m a now a big fan of Vigo (not to be confused with Viggo Mortensen, although I’m also a fan of his work.)

Breakfast Booth

August 4, 2009

Alice Anderson dives into two strawberry pancakes with whipped cream at the Harbor Cafe in Stonington, Maine. The cafe is the one restaurant on Deer Isle that's open all year. Photo by Cheryl Hatch

Alice Anderson dives into two strawberry pancakes with whipped cream at the Harbor Cafe in Stonington, Maine. The cafe is the one restaurant on Deer Isle that's open all year. Photo by Cheryl Hatch

Yesterday morning, Alice and I grabbed a table tucked in front of a window with a view of the harbor at the aptly named Harbor Cafe in downtown Stonington, Maine.  Today, when I woke at 5 a.m., I  wandered outside: light and the loud voices of fishermen were already spilling into the the fog-shrouded streets from the cafe.

In Maine, rumor–and custom, apparently– have it that you’re considered a foreigner if you weren’t born in Maine. People can live here for 30 years and still be considered an outsider. In this climate, Alice was skeptical that my usual keen curiosity and desire to strike up conversations would be met with much enthusiasm.

I turned in my chair and introduced myself to a group having breakfast in the booth behind us. I told them Alice was working at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery. I told them she was also on the board of our nonprofit, Isis Initiative, Inc.

Mary Halpin, a local woman, asked me about the work of our nonprofit. When I explained that we sponsored scholarships and helped support college education for women overseas, she quickly explained that she is a member of P.E.O., the Philanthropic Educational Organization, one of the pioneer societies for women, founded in 1869. For years, they kept their mission and their membership fairly secretive, Mary said. Now they’re trying to spread the word and reach the younger generation.

I smiled at Alice as she joined our conversation.

Pancakes and possibilities.

At Last

June 21, 2009

On June 18, 2009, I took our completed Form 1023 to the Corvallis post office and mailed it to the IRS office in Kentucky.

Each day, for several days, I missed my self-appointed deadline. Today is the day, I’d think; and then I’d find a typo.

Each time I’d think I had a perfect application, I’d find a style or formatting error. And some were tiny mistakes, mistakes most people might miss–or having discovered them, they might let them slide.

I couldn’t. I didn’t. I ferreted out two spaces instead of one after a period; references to FORM and Form 1o23; inconsistency in my use of serial commas. I worked for accuracy and consistency.

There was no parade or confetti or fanfare at the post office to mark the big event. The lady at the counter was grumpy.

I said a blessing for the application and sent an e-mail to my board to let them know the application was on its way to the IRS.

Third Time’s a Charm

April 1, 2009

I finished the IRS Form 1023. I gave myself a March 30 deadline and I made it.

The process was not without it’s challenges and frustrations. I woke up early to complete the online version of the form, using the print version I’d completed by hand as a reference. I saved it as a PDF, feeling positively gleeful, only to discover when I opened the saved file that none of my input had actually been saved. Huh?

Never mind. I diligently completed the form a second time. Saved it as a PDF. Same result. You are kidding me! I’d spent four hours and had no document to show for it.

Deep breath, Cheryl. Now walk away.

Treasurer Samanda Dorger reviewed my work and listened to my whines of exasperation. I took frequent breaks to revel in the California sunshine and a cup of tea as I worked my way through the computer glitches. 

Midway through the process, John East made a house call and ran a diagnostic on my computer. It was in serious need of some TLC and defragging. 

I had a happy computer the next day. I completed all the essay answers. I finetuned the history I’d written earlier about our nonprofit: Section IV. The narrative. I answered the questions in Section VIII about our fundraising efforts. I filled out Section H, which pertained to our scholarships. I created and included a example of the application that we will give our scholarship candidates.

It’s a substantial form and a thorough questionnaire; it takes concentrated diligence and attention to complete it.

I went to the public library when I returned to Corvallis and tried one more time to complete the online IRS Form 1023. I saved the document after I completed each page, hoping for a different result. Hoping the third time would be a charm. Yes! Mission accomplished. 

I e-mailed Kathy DeYoung at Financial Steward Resources. She said she’d look over my work and then we’d meet to discuss my application before I sent it to the IRS. I dropped it at her office this afternoon.

We decided to include a nondiscriminatory policy in our scholarship application process. I asked our lawyer, Justin Wirth, at Jeanne Smith and Associates in Corvallis, to review my language on the policy statement. He’ll get back to me by the end of the week.

It’s coming together. I intend to have the paperwork in the mail next week. Then I can turn my attention to fundraising, getting a ticket to the Philippines and finding the resources to pay for our first promotional DVD.

Library’s closing in 10 minutes. Gotta post and fly.