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

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.

A Good Question

November 14, 2009

Cheryl?

It’s stated with the upsweep intonation of a question.

“What are you doing back at the GT?

I’m sitting in Francesco’s gelato cafe in downtown Corvallis. I sometimes sit in a comfy chair by the window in the evenings and write my blog entry, taking advantage of their free wi-fi and the lively atmosphere.

I look up and toward the direction of the voice.

Karl  Maasdam. With his wife and two lovely daughters.

Good question. He’s the first to ask it directly since I returned to the Gazette-Times on October 28, 2009.

I have answers. None are easy. Or short. None that can quickly respond to a man with his family waiting by the door to exit.

“My non-profit,” I say.

Karl worked at the Gazette-Times as a staff photographer after I left a position vacant when I went to graduate school. He eventually left the newspaper to start his own successful photography business in town.

I had asked myself the same question before I accepted the job. Why return? There were many reasons not to return.

Yet, I wanted to write again and I wanted a steady income stream–to help nourish and support the growth of Isis Initiative, Inc. For two years, Isis Initiative has been my passion and my focus–on my time. I made those volunteer hours work by working independently–and sporadically.

I wrote freelance articles. I received a Writer-in-Residence appointment from Fishtrap. Inc. last spring. I taught high school journalism and photography in Condon and Fossil, Oregon. I did public relations and media consulting.

I had freedom–time to focus on my health and my nonprofit. I loved those years of liberty–and I struggled in them.

I chose a time of solitude and healing.

Now I’ve chosen to use my time and talent in service to my local community while I build a nonprofit that serves women worldwide.

I get paid to write. I have the privilege and sacred trust of listening to people’s stories and sharing them with others.

And, I have a stable income that grounds me as I grow the nonprofit. (It would be great if President and First Lady Obama would respond to my letters and donate some of the Nobel Peace Prize award money to Isis Initiative.)

I’m working locally and making a difference globally.

I put my cameras down. I didn’t want to carry them anymore–nor carry the burden of the events and images I’ve photographed over the past two decades covering breaking news and war.

I photograph now when I write. I see details and capture them–write them down. I arrange vignettes of a story as if I were moving slides on a light table to prepare a slide show.

I am still a visual storyteller. And I dig it.

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.

Our First Fiscal Year

June 30, 2009

First, a shout out to Francesco’s, the lovely gelato shop in downtown Corvallis. I’m sitting in a comfy chair by the window, laptop on my lap, composing this post. (I’m not having gelato: I’m helping myself to the free Internet access.)

Today marks the end of our first full fiscal year. We haven’t accomplished all our goals, especially where fundraising is concerned; yet, we’ve made great progress. Our paperwork for 501(c)(3) status is with the IRS. We’re registered with the Oregon Department of Justice. We hosted two fundraising events.

Thanks to Phil McClain, who works at Oregon State University and has volunteered his time and expertise to create a database for us.

Michael Peterman (husband of Melanthia, our secretary) gave us a generous donation to close our books on a high note.

We have much to celebrate this year and much to do in the coming year. Hint: Anyone who’d like to host a fundraiser or has ideas on ways to raise money and/or awareness for our organization, please let us know.  A golf tournament? A dance? A photo exhibit?

I’m heading home now to call Leah. I usually call her at 9 or 10 p.m. and find her 16 hours ahead in the Philippines. We’re working on the selection of the next scholarship candidate. I’ll save the report on the latest hiccups in our process for my next post.

As I was putting the final touches on our Form 1023 for the the IRS, I discovered that our application would eventually become public record.

Hang on.

As a career journalist, I realized I wanted our documents and our narrative to be picture perfect. At the last minute, I reached out to my friend Martha Anderson, who is a professional copy editor with a long and accomplished career working for the Oregon state legislature.

Martha and I were journalism majors at Oregon State University and worked together at the student newspaper, The Daily Barometer. She was the editor and I was a reporter and photographer. Martha’s daughter, Alice, is on our board of directors. Our friendship spans more than two decades.

Martha has a heavy and demanding workload. Yet, when I asked her if she’d be willing to look over our documents with her keen copy editor’s eye, she agreed. On a Sunday afternoon, when she could have been working in her garden or reading a book…or plain relaxing…she took the time and the care to honor a friend’s request. 

Now I feel confident submitting our application. I know it’s been finely polished and handled with care.

Thank you, Martha.

 

Isis Initiative president Cheryl Hatch, left, was a panelist at an event sponsored by the Corvallis chapter of Zonta International. Beth Rietveld, director of the Oregon State Women's Center, moderated the panel. Mark Weiss and Bonnie Soto also participated in the panel discussion. Photo by Jeanene Louden

Isis Initiative president Cheryl Hatch, left, was a panelist at an event sponsored by the Corvallis chapter of Zonta International. Beth Rietveld, director of the Oregon State University Women's Center, moderated the panel. Mark Weiss and Bonnie Soto also participated in the panel discussion. Photo by Jeanene Louden

My friend Jeanene was my guest at a community event tonight, sponsored by the Corvallis chapter of Zonta. Founded in 1919, Zonta International is a global organization of executives and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy.

In March in celebration of International Women’s Day, Zonta presented me with a yellow rose to honor me for Isis Initiative’s work funding and promoting women’s education. I was  guest for the program “Rose Day Honors: Helping Women Return to College.”

Tonight I want to acknowledge my friend Jeanene and all the women and girls who support Zonta’s mission.

Jeanene helped me create the three-year projected budget for Isis for our IRS Form 1023. It was Jeanene’s idea to use my photo note cards as a fundraiser for Isis Initiative. Jeanene organized our card party when we assembled our first 50 sets of cards.

And tonight, when the women asked “How can we help?”, Jeanene stood and gave a heartfelt pitch for our notecards. She collected $210. 

I am grateful for Jeanene’s friendship (of 17 years we just realized tonight) and for her support of Isis Initiative, Inc.  And for her iPhone photo that accompanies this post.

I didn’t know about Zonta before my yellow rose. At tonight’s meeting, I met local women from all professions and backgrounds with a common passion: uplifting women. Girls from Crescent Valley and Corvallis High Schools spoke about their work in Z-Clubs; many are sophomores who impressed me with their clarity, compassion and sense of purpose. 

Zonta, like Isis Initiative, Inc., is an all-volunteer organization. Thank you!