The idea for Isis Initiative began by accident, literally.
After completing my scuba instructor training in the Philippines, I wrecked on all-terrain vehicle in the jungle: I was lucky to walk away with only a shattered wrist.
I arrived alone at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Batangas City on Easter weekend 2003.
“Where’s your companion?”
The nurses, my doctors, everyone who entered my room asked the same question. Filipinos always stay with family members or friends in the hospital. They would never leave a loved one in the hospital alone. They could not fathom my situation.
Alan, the Australian owner of Asia Divers where I’d trained, understood the culture and offered to send one of the waitresses from his resort to keep me company, to be my companion. I was scared—and a long way from my own family—so I accepted his generous offer.
Leah Mamhot was waiting for me when I returned from surgery and kept me company in the hospital for three days. I learned that Leah had abandoned school and her dreams of becoming a teacher when her father died. She needed to earn money to support her widowed mother and her extended family, including two younger brother, Benjy and Joven. She’d been a good student and loved school.
She left her tiny village in Sinacaban on the island of Mindanao and traveled to Mindoro to find work as a waitress. She sent her wages home and with her tips alone, she paid for the construction of the single room cinder-block home where her family now lives.
Leah was with me when I went to settle my hospital bill. “How will you ever pay it, Cheryl,” she asked.
I learned from the doctor who treated my wounds that an equivalent sum would pay for a college education. I asked my Filipino dive instructor if he thought it would be culturally appropriate for me to offer to pay Leah’s college tuition.
Leah returned to school at the age of 31. She studied hard: teachers must carry a “B” average in all courses to graduate.
In October 2007, I returned to attend Leah’s Tribute Day at La Salle University in Ozamiz City. It was one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life, watching Leah realize her dream of becoming a teacher, like my mother.
In April 2008, she passed her board exams. In May 2008, she took her professional oath. In June 2008, she began teaching at a Montessori school near her village and she aspires to teach at a public school in the years ahead.
She lives at home with her mother, Rosalia, 74, and provides both an income and an example for her younger brothers.
The president of the Philippines Board of Governors, Mr. Loreto Leo S. Ocampos, honored Leah as a “Face of Hope” at a prestigious awards ceremony in March 2008.
Leah’s story inspired people in her country and in mine; so I created a nonprofit to continue the good work we’ve all done together. Isis Initiative, Inc.