I finally reached Leah by telephone.

The last time we had spoken, she had mentioned she would be sticking close to home until after the May 10 elections in the Philippines. There was “unrest” on Mindanao. I had tried calling several times and received a recorded message that stated the “subscriber was not available.” Originally I was calling to ask if she’d had any news about her appointment to a teaching position at the public school. As the days passed and I wasn’t able to reach her, I just  wanted to hear Leah’s voice and know she and her family were OK.

When we finally connected, Leah told me it was brownouts that cut the cell phone service. No electricity. No cell phones. And they were without electricity every other day.

She had great news. She has received a public school job, as a substitute in June and July for a teacher who’s going on maternity leave. Leah believes that she will receive her own classroom when the academic year resumes in August. She said she cried when she learned the news. She said this is the job she’s dreamed of all her life. I told her I was so happy for her and so proud of her.

She will receive nearly triple the salary she’s made at the private elementary school the past two years. When she becomes a permanent hire, she’ll get benefits and she’ll have a job for life. Another bonus: she can walk to her school–no transportation costs.

Bravo, Leah.


Leah Mamhot sent me all the receipts for Marethel Guinsayao's first semester in college, including this receipt from a seamstress for her two school uniforms.

Leah sent me the receipts for Marethel Guinsayao’s first semester of college on Mindanao  in the Philippines, including the one for her uniforms: $20 buys two school uniforms for four years of college.

I spent $25 on a book for my father for Christmas. Over and over again, I’m reminded of the power of a small amount of money to make a big difference.

We have 246 fans of our Isis Initiative, Inc. Facebook page. I posted a note stating if every one of our fans donating $20, we’d be well on our way to sending another young woman to college.

I haven’t yet received a response to my letter to President and First Lady Obama. I remain hopeful. They’re busy and they’ve got a lot on their minds and their schedules, no doubt.

If you’d like to donate, we have an easy PayPal button on our Web site at isisinitiative.org.

As always, thank you.

A Massacre in the Philippines

November 28, 2009

Here’s the latest news on the massacre from an article by Carlos H. Conde in the New York Times, posted in the Dallas Morning News online.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Most or all of the 22 women among the at least 57 people massacred Monday in the southern Philippines were sexually mutilated, authorities said Friday.

“It was horrible. It was not done to just one,” the justice secretary, Agnes Devanadrea, said on national television. “It was done to practically all the women.”

While work continued to identify all the dead, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said it appeared that 30 journalists and their assistants had been killed.

About a dozen of the victims were the relatives, lawyers or supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician whose determination to challenge the entrenched Ampatuan clan in a gubernatorial election touched off the violence, investigators said.

I called Leah tonight to talk with her about the killings and violence.

“I’m fine, Cheryl.”

“It’s horrible,” Leah said. “More than 30 are from the media, television, radio. They were very very innocent. It was horrible.”

“It’s far from my place,” Leah assured me. How far? “A whole day’s travel from my place.”

I told Leah on the map it looks close.”Really?”

“It was politics,” Leah said.

Bloody politics.

President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency. People question whether there will be justice. Again, politics.

In the shadow of the sexual mutilation and the massacre of women, Leah leads her simple life, teaching her students and taking care of her family, a day’s travel from the madness.

For now, I am happy that Leah is well and happy. She’s enjoying her teaching. She’ll have two weeks of paid vacation starting December 18. These are things to be thankful for, to celebrate.


Investing in Live Stock

November 16, 2009

Leah earns 6,000 pesos/month teaching at the Montessori School in Ozamiz City on Mindanao in the Philippines. That’s approximately US $125, depending on the exchange rate. She’s applied for a position with a public school for the coming academic year. She’ll earn 16,000 pesos/month (US$335) plus benefits. And the school will be closer to her home and village.

Please send Leah all your good thoughts and best wishes. She’s worked hard for this opportunity and the extra money will make a world of difference for her family.

Leah’s a resourceful and determined young woman. To supplement her salary, she bought a pig. She pays approximately US$20 for a pig. Then she raises it and sells it, making about US$140. When I attended her graduation from La Salle University Ozamiz in October 2007, she had her pig butchered and cooked to make luchon, a traditional Filipino dish, to honor and thank me, “her benefactor,” and her family and friends. For her graduation celebration, we traveled to a local beach resort. Friends and family came from miles to join the feast.

Leah has two pigs now as an investment. Her brother, Juven, feeds and cares for the pigs. He’ll get a cut of the profits when they sell the pigs. Leah had planned to prepare luchon again for Christmas, when I had hoped to visit. Not this year. I’ll be working–the prize for being the most recent hire at the newspaper.

I’ll be there in spirit.

Remember this holiday season, $20 can make an enormous difference in a young woman’s life. Leah buys pigs to supplement her salary. Your donation of $20 will help provide a college education to another scholarship recipient.

Please help us continue to send young women to college with scholarships from Isis Initiative, Inc. You can donate through PayPal on our Web site or send a check.

Thank you.

Unintended Consequences

November 8, 2009

Leah arrived in Dumingag about noon on Friday. She met Marethel, our scholarship recipient, and her sister, Rosel, who’s a third year education student at Josefina Cerilles State College. Leah paid her tuition fees and Marethel is enrolled for 15 units her first semester.

Marethel will share a small room in a boarding house with her sister and another student. Since they live in a mountainous region far from the college, the sisters must live near the college in order to attend classes.

“It’s a very small room, Cheryl,” Leah said. And if Leah says it’s small…

There’s a bed and a set of bunk beds and not much else.

Leah and Marethel went looking for the landlord to pay Marethel’s rent for six months. Rosebel tried to ask Leah about an allowance for Marethel, so Leah showed them the contract. Leah said she told Marethel be thankful enough for the opportunity she’s received to go to college.

She gave Marethel our agreement, which says she accepts the Leah B. Mamhot Scholarship from Isis Initiative, Inc. We will cover her tuition, boarding room and two school uniforms. She will cover her other expenses and maintain a “B” average in school. If she doesn’t have a “B” average one semester, she will get one chance, i.e. the next semester, to raise her grades. We will fund her entire education if she continues to do well in her studies.

Leah said Marethel is very happy and she signed the contract.

Then Leah told me that Marethel’s younger sister, who was a working scholar at La Salle University, which Leah attended, had to abandon her studies. Since she’s the youngest, her family requires her to work to help support Marethel and Rosel in their studies.

We offered one young woman a college education and it cost another young woman–only temporarily, I hope–her education. This is a standard practice in Filipino culture. The younger sister and her brother will work to pay for the expenses of the two sisters now in college.

When they graduate and begin working, they will help pay for the education of their siblings.

Leah is doing the same for her family. Her brother, Benjy, 17, won a scholarship to study criminology in Tangub, where he’ll stay in a boarding house. Leah will use a portion of her teaching wages to help Benjy pay for his expenses. Benjy likes LeBron James and wants to become a police officer.

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.

Leah To The Rescue

October 19, 2009

I spoke with Leah at 4 a.m. this morning. I was expecting good news: that Leah had met Marethel and her family and had enrolled her in college.

After our conversation, I found it impossible to get back to sleep. The news wasn’t good.

The money we’d sent last month was not in Leah’s account. The funds were intended to pay for Marethel’s tuition, boarding and uniforms; she needed to enroll on Monday. (See my post on October 5.)

Leah spent the morning at Allied Bank in Ozamiz City. There was no money, no explanation and no one could help her.

Marethel had texted Leah from Molave on the Zamboanga Penisula, where she was waiting for Leah. She had traveled a significant distance from her home to meet Leah. They planned to go to the college and pay Marethel’s tuition.

Leah bought a bus ticket and made the four-hour roundtrip to give Marethel what money she had in her wallet as a downpayment on tuition. She promised to return in two weeks with rest of the necessary funds.

Leah sounded so tired when we spoke. It was 7 p.m. her time and she’d just returned home.

I realized later today that Leah has taken on an awful lot to help us. She’s never had a bank account. Never had to deal with international money transfers. Doesn’t have experience dealing with tellers and bank managers.

She has precious little discretionary income, yet she parted with all the money in her wallet without hesitation.

Leah wades right into the deep waters and finds a way. Even when she thinks she’s in over her head.

Thank you, Leah.