“A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation and disease, and given them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential.” — Audrey Hepburn

My friend, Theresa Hogue, who works at Oregon State University, posted this on Facebook today. Thank you, Theresa.

Ms. Hepburn’s insight is perfect for International Women’s Day. And it speaks perfectly to the mission of Isis Initiative, Inc. It speaks to the power of education. I would add “the power of educating women.”

Check in the Mail

January 18, 2010

I went to our post office box on Saturday and found a plain white envelope addressed to Isis Initiative, Inc. No return address. I opened it to find a card and opened the card to find a check. I unfolded the check. $5,000. I read the number twice. Then I read the handwritten “five thousand” to be certain. (I won’t reveal more without the donor’s permission.)

I immediately thought: How many women can we send to college? I was giddy at such a generous and unexpected donation. Then I picked up the phone and called our board members to share the great news and my joy.

The money is great. And the check is so much more valuable than the numbers after the dollar sign. It’s a statement of support. It’s a testament of faith. It’s an acknowledgement of the value of the work we do and it’s a miracle. It demonstrates the possibilities when hearts and stories connect. When one  person’s story, one person’s words moves another person to act. It’s a shiny example of the power of women to make a difference in the lives of other women…and thereby make a difference for everyone.

I am humbled and elated. And inspired.

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.

 

 

 

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Isis Initiative President Cheryl Hatch wrote this letter to First Lady Michelle Obama, telling her about the nonprofit's commitment to women's access to higher education worldwide.

Last month, I wrote to President Obama and asked him to consider donating a part of his $1.4 million award for the Nobel Peace Prize to Isis Initiative, Inc.

Then I realized I wanted to write to Mrs. Obama. She’s a woman. She’s a mother. And a daughter. She’s a strong advocate for education and the possibilities for change that a college degree can offer.

I believe in our mission to offer scholarships to young women overseas, who come from impoverished and challenging backgrounds and dare to dream of a better future for themselves and their families.

I wrote the First Lady and asked for her support. I have big dreams, too.

 

Lucky Lady

August 14, 2009

I called Leah with the news of our decision.

“Who is the lucky lady, Cheryl,” Leah asked.

Our congratulations to Marethel Guinsayo, a 2007 graduate of San Jose High School, in San Jose, Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur on Mindanao in the Philippines.

Marethel Guinsayao, (left) is the first recipient of the Leah B. Mamhot Scholarship. Also pictured: Cristina M. Alimbe, Grace A. Supang and Lolita Imfiel are the four candidates for our 2009 scholarship. The women reside in Zamboanga del sur province of Mindinao. Photo by Leah B. Mamhot

Marethel Guinsayao, (left) is the first recipient of the Leah B. Mamhot Scholarship. Also pictured: Cristina M. Alimbe, (second from left) Grace A. Supang and Lolita Imfiel (right) are the other finalists for our 2009 scholarship. The women reside in Zamboanga del sur province of Mindinao. Photo by Leah B. Mamhot

Earlier this evening, Isis Initiative board members discussed our four scholarship candidates. We had a tough decision, weighing each young woman’s financial needs, GPA and family situation. It was close between two candidates. We wished we could offer all four a scholarship.

Our local Filipino committee had offered a recommendation. In the end, the input from the three women who had met and interviewed the candidates–and who understand the local culture–swayed us. The local committee recommended Marethel.

I spoke with Leah and she assured me that Marethel is a excellent choice and would be a serious student who would value the gift and the opportunity of a college education.

I trust Leah’s judgment. The board members trust Leah’s judgment.

Ultimately, it’s a leap of faith. For all of us.

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.

 

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!