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

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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.

On the Upbeat

July 7, 2010

Natasha Chughtai, a reporter and an anchor on KVAL-TV in Eugene, Oregon, interviewed me in May for a profile on Isis Initiative, Inc. for her weekly broadcast “On the Upbeat.” It aired Friday, July 2, 2010. Thank you, Natasha. And thank you to Lynn Walker for telling Natasha about our work. You can view broadcast by clicking on this link: http://corvallis.kval.com/content/accident-inspiration-corvallis-based-non-profit-helps-women-abroad-go-back-school

When I accepted a full-time job at our local newspaper last fall, I thought I would be grounding myself. I imagined a regular routine and paycheck would support my work on Isis Initiative, Inc. Turns out the job can sometimes be more grinding than grounding. I found myself spending less time on the nonprofit–and less time on this blog, obviously.

Yet, the job has presented me with new opportunities to share the work and make wonderful contacts. Last week I interviewed Sandy Neubaum, the associate director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program at Oregon State University. Sandy is a dynamic, passionate advocate for “doing good while doing well,” using business practices and profits to address social issues. She has 20 years experience working in nonprofit organization. Doing my job covering the higher education beat, I met a fabulous new mentor.

Sandy teaches BA162, a class in social entrepreneurship. Students divide into teams and create a fundraising project. She gives them $100 to invest and they’re expected to turn at least $150 in profit. Those profits are then invested in real nonprofit organizations.

When I was observing Sandy in class, she mentioned Isis Initiative, Inc. She asked me to give an impromptu five-minute speech about Isis and our work helping women overseas gain access to college education. Isis Initiative, Inc. is one of the nonprofits to which the students may choose to donate at the end of the term. I was so surprised and honored to have Isis selected.

Now we’ll see what the students do. Stay tuned.

“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.

This design features labradorite, known as the shaman's stone, in a hand-made silver necklace. It's an original design by Karen Hatch of Stones to Stars in Houston, Texas. This necklace is one of the original pieces for sale at Hatch's show on Dec. 13, 2009 in Houston, TX. More details below.

About labradorite: “It is truly a one-of-a-kind mineralogical experience. It is said to provide quick relief from anxiety, hopelessness and depression, replacing them with enthusiasm, self confidence and inspiration. The stone’s energies support striking out alone, whether in business or to follow a private dream.” Karen Hatch, artist

My sister, Karen Hatch, is an artist who creates original pieces of jewelry using sacred and precious stones from her travels in Central and South America. She has an opening this Saturday of her holiday collection and she will donate a portion of her sales to Isis Initiative, Inc.

If you are in Houston or you have friends or relatives in the area, I’d encourage you to visit

John Ross Palmer Gallery & Studio

1218 Heights Boulevard • Houston, TX 77008 • Dec. 13, 2009 • 15h00 to 17h00

You may find a beautiful gift for yourself or someone you love…and help offer the gift of a college education to a young women overseas.

Karen Hatch Artist Statement

My work is intentionally hand-to-hand. Everything is handmade and sold exclusively hand-to-hand. I work with materials from craftsman who cut stones and pull silver wire by hand and I hand picked each stone in the country from which it was quarried.

My commitment is to provide through my jewelry a connection: to the land, to other people, to our true nature and the Whole diverse, complex and rich pulsating Universal energy of love. Thanks be to God the Almighty Artist, Creator of Heaven and earth.

It is also my heart’s desire that people will see what total works of art they are and embrace their natural beauty and not rely on media messages to define their beauty.

You can learn more about her work at stonetostars.com