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


Leah’s Latest News

August 7, 2011

Leah has sought a teaching position in a public school near her village for more than two years. Twice she’s been next in line for an available position and twice the position has been given to someone with connections to the administration.
Here’s the latest news she sent in an email:
Hi Cheryl,
How are you? I received the post card you sent, thank you so much. I sent already the receipts of Marethel’s tuition fee last semester and this semester.
Cheryl, I’m here in Puerto Galera I arrived here last Thursday. I will try my luck here and my friends are helping me to get a teaching job in the public school. I am very disappointed there in my place. I haven’t see the Congressman only his staff and they said they will only give me a recommendation which they did when he was still a governor but the Division office won’t honor that one.
Joel and his family are the one taking care of our mother.  I’m still hoping that I could get a job. I would always call my mother because she doesn’t want me to leave her but I told her that I’m doing this for her.
I love you Cheryl and I miss you so much..
Love, Leah
It’s frustrating to the board members and donors of Isis Initiative, Inc. that Leah has worked so hard and has not been able to realize her dream despite all her efforts.
After her graduation, then Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos honored Leah as a “Face of Hope.” He’s now serves in the national legislature as a representative for Misamis Occidental. I met Mr. Ocampos in 2007 when I attended Leah’s graduation. I intend to write him and ask him to look into Leah’s situation.
We’re concerned about funding the education of young women in the Philippines if they are unable to put their education and their desire to teach and serve into practice after graduation.

Waiting on a dream

February 5, 2011

I spoke with Leah last night. It was early evening in Fairbanks, noon in Sinacaban.

At first, we had a hard time talking over the noise of barking dogs in her neighborhood. We shared news. Her mother remains paralyzed on her left side. She can longer eat solid food. Leah said she has to blend everything, even rice, to feed her mother.

She’s happy because she got another temporary teaching job at a private school, Medina College, in Ozamis City. She teaches K-1 and K-2 in the morning and K 3-5 in the afternoon. The salary is much lower than a public school job. She makes 5,550 pesos (about $110/month) compared to the 17,000 pesos with benefits she would make at a public school.

Leah has taught as five schools in the past three years since her college graduation. Twice she was in line for a public school position. Twice  local politics and nepotism blocked the path to her dream.

On Feb. 18, the administration will meet again. There are two open positions in her local school. It’s Leah’s turn. She’s daring to dream once more.

When she had a temporary public school job, Leah was able to pay for her mother’s medicine and medical bills. She paid for her brother Benjy’s college tuition. He was studying criminal justice and planned to have a career as a police officer. She made improvements to their small cinder block home, including indoor plumbing and a C.R. (comfort room, i.e. toilet). I joked and told her that I didn’t have a C.R.; I explained the outhouse behind my cabin.

“You don’t have to go very far in the cold, do you?” she asked.

She’s grateful for her job at the private school, but Benjy had to quit his studies. He just started a new job as a janitor. Working six days a week, he’ll earn about the same salary as Leah, 5,500 pesos/month.

“Pray for me please, Cheryl.”

Leah asked me to pray that her dream will come true, that she can get a teaching job in a public school. She’ll have a salary that will support her family. Her brother will be able to resume his studies. She’ll have benefits and a classroom of her own.

That’s always been Leah’s dream.

“I don’t want to be a principal or an administrator. I want to be a teacher in my own classroom,” she said.

Please join me in praying for Leah, praying that the dream she’s worked so hard for, the dream she’es held on to for years, will come true.




My friend, Kathleen Hennessy, reminded me of the deadline (today, Oct. 1, 2010, naturally) for submission of photo essays for the social activist award from PhotoPhilanthropy. This is brilliant idea and a great organization “promotes and connects photographers with non-profit organizations around the world to tell the stories that drive action for social change.”

I spent yesterday and today putting together a photo essay, Leah’s Dream. It features photographs from my visit to witness Leah’s graduation from La Salle University in Osamis City in 2007.

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 graduated in elementary education in 2007 and now works as a teacher near her village, Sinacaban, on Mindanao.

PhotoPhilanthropy offers a number of awards in different categories. I entered in the category for professional photographers and first prize is $15,000. Imagine how many scholarships and how much good work we could do with that money.

And it’s a win-win scenario. My photography and the work of Isis Initiative, Inc. will be featured on PhotoPhilanthropy’s website.

Thank you to Kathleen and PhotoPhilanthropy and to all the featured photographers for the work they do to contribute to social change. And thank you for the opportunity to share our work and commitment to provide access to higher education for women who have the desire but not the resources to get a college degree.

Still Waiting

September 14, 2010

Leah still has not received payment for the two months she covered for a teacher on maternity leave. Here’s what she wrote me in an e-mail I received today:

“I went to the Division office in Oroquieta City because my assets and liabilities has no sworn statement from the lawyer. They can’t process my salary so I went to the Public Attorney’s Office because it’s free unlike in a private lawyer. The Division office told me to leave my cellphone number so that they could inform me if there are some discripancy of my papers but they didn’t, when I texted them asking if I could get my salary that was the time they told me Oh, should come here because there’s no sworn statement in your assets and liabilities. They promise they will just text me when to get my salary.”

To make ends meet, Leah sold her pig for income. Now she’s got another job substitute teaching at a private school. She still wants to get a job in a public school.

“There’s no news yet about the job in a public school. I hope soon..

I love you and I miss you…Take care and God Bless….Love, Leah”


September 1, 2010

I’ve been waiting to post the exciting news that Leah had received her public school teaching position. Sadly, she didn’t.

Leah taught two years at a private elementary school with the dream of securing a government job in a public school. The public school position offers the security of a lifetime appointment, benefits and a salary that is nearly triple what she earned at the private school.

She did everything right. She was number three on the waiting list. The first two candidates had received their job postings. She was next. She did not renew her private school contract. Instead she accepted an offer to fill in for a teacher who took maternity leave. She was told she’d have the next available position at the school.

When the position became available, the school administrator awarded it to someone who had family connections to the local mayor or the school administrator (I can’t remember which now). The person who got Leah’s job was ranked 11th on the waiting list, eighth behind Leah.

Leah said she cried and cried when she learned she’d been passed over. She hasn’t yet received her salary for the two months she served as a substitute. Her family went without electricity for a while because Leah didn’t have the money to pay the bill. She sold their pig to secure funds to help with expenses.

Leah doesn’t complain, though. She takes action. She went to the governor’s office and explained her situation. She asked for a teaching position and she’s been promised one in a school in a neighboring village. She said: “God is always taking care of me.”

She wants a job in a school near her village so she can stay in her home and continue to care for her aging mother and her two brothers. She’s helping pay for her brother’s education now.

When I posted this news on Facebook, my friend, Michelle Jolin, left the following comment:

“We’re so lucky on so many levels–including the one in which most of us get through life without ever having to pay a bribe or worry about such entrenched nepotism that you can’t get a decent education or a good job without powerful friends helping you.”

Leah refuses to pay a bribe. She said she knows it would make the path easier; however, she doesn’t believe in bribery. She has faith in God, herself and her hard work.

I am so proud of Leah. She has faced obstacles ever since she returned to college 15 years after she’d left high school to earn money for her family after her father died. She continues to believe and to push for what she wants, what she’s earned. I look forward to the day I can write a post announcing Leah’s new job.

And I’m so grateful to my friends and all who support Isis Initiative.

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.