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.

Calendar for a Cause

November 9, 2009

At Isis Initiative, Inc., we support education for women and offer scholarships to help those who have the desire but not the resources to attend college.

My friend and fellow photographer, Betty Press, has made a commitment to helping school children in Sierra Leone, a country healing after years of brutal civil war and destruction–of infrastructure and of children’s lives and futures.

She has created a calendar as a fundraiser for Schools for Salone.

As you contemplate gifts this holiday season, I’d ask you to consider purchasing one of these beautiful, unique calendars and supporting the recovery and revitalization of Sierra Leone and her schoolchildren.

Thank you.

For more information:

Do Good and Do No Harm

October 20, 2009

When I read “Dark Star Safari,” I remember being particularly struck by Paul Theroux‘s description of self-serving aid agencies that do more harm than good.

And as I embarked on creating my nonprofit, I realized that sometimes good intentions can have unintended consequences. So, how to do good and do no harm? Is it possible? Is it a worthy goal?

A big Star Trek fan, I think the Prime Directive is probably a good model and a noble idea, yet it lives in fiction, science fiction.

Here’s my most recent case in point and conundrum: Marethel, our scholarship recipient, has asked for more money. She’s asked for a daily allowance to cover her food while she’s in the boarding house.

Our intention is to offer financial assistance to young women  who have the desire but not the resources to go to college. It’s also important to us that the women invest something, too. In this case, Leah proposed that since we’re providing housing, Marethel would cover her food expenses. And since we’re providing uniforms, Marethel would buy her school shoes.

I trust Leah. She comes from a background similar to those of the young women we seek to help. She has solid common sense and a good heart. At 31, she went back to school and worked hard to achieve the grades she needed to reach her dream of a college diploma and a career as an elementary school teacher.

By contributing a small portion to her education, Marethel would not be relying totally on charity. She’d be invested. Leah supports this approach.

It’s not a question of money; it’s a question of principle and purpose. The amount of money she would need is small;  the dilemma giving it creates is large.

We have a board meeting tomorrow night and we’ll discuss this dilemma. It some ways it seems like a petty issue. Give the girl the money. It’s no big deal. And in other ways, it is a big deal. So many trite phrases come to mind: Give a helping hand not a handout. For example.

Then again, perhaps the young woman has so few resources that she cannot pay for her food. Or perhaps, and I hate to think it, she’s playing us. A friend or a family member has seen her opportunity and has crawled on her back, seeking a handout.

I’ve been influenced by the stories I’ve read in “Half the Sky.” Stories where women have overcome enormous challenges, vicious crimes and crippling poverty. They received some assistance; yet they showed resourcefulness and discipline in helping contribute to their success.

I knew when I started this nonprofit that I would learn a lot. I knew I’d make some mistakes. It comes with the territory: venturing into other countries and cultures, with good intentions and donations to make a difference. It requires vigilance, compassion, clarity and an ongoing conversation about our approach to ensure we do our best to do more good than harm.

That’s a clever twist of a phrase–do more good than harm–and I like the way it sounds. In truth, I don’t want to do any harm at all. Even that statement seems far too lofty and unrealistic. We can never know all the consequences of our actions. We can simply do our best to do good.

World Humanitarian Day

August 21, 2009

I was driving down I-5 on Wednesday, listening to NPR.

They reported a story about bombings in Baghdad, Iraq that killed at least 95 people. And then there was a story about the United Nations’ inaugural World Humanitarian Day, which honors, in part, aid workers who have been killed while rendering assistance to those in need. It  specifically remembers and honors Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad in 2003.

I’ve also nearly finished “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux. He writes about his return to Africa nearly 40 years after he lived in Malawi as a teacher with the Peace Corps. He travels overland from Cairo to Cape Town and recounts an Africa that is much changed…and not for the better. He notes the fancy Land Rovers and trademark white vehicles of aid organizations, symbols for him of the entrenched, institutionalized foreign donors and their programs that often do far more harm than good.

Between the broadcast, the book and our recent board meeting, I’ve been thinking a lot about giving aid and how to make a difference without causing damage. Actually, I’ve confronted this dilemma many times over the course of my life, particularly in my career as a journalist working overseas in areas of conflict. Sometimes humanitarians are not humane.

I remember well a day at a refugee camp in Liboi, Kenya. A photographer with the International Red Cross was shooting portraits of refugees for an ad campaign. He had a a Hasselblad camera in hand and several assistants culling a line of recent arrivals for the most photogenic subjects.

He asked a Somali mother to remove the cloth she had draped over her baby to protect him. He wanted to see the baby’s eyes while the mother wanted to shield her child from the sun and the flies. He posed the women against the shiny seamless white backdrop. She looked uncomfortable but she did what she was asked.

I was appalled. The eyes of the malnourished and starving are particularly sensitive to light. These refugees had risked their lives and crossed the desert to find safety from war and famine in Somalia. They needed sanctuary not publicity.

The photographer was clearly causing the woman and her child distress. And I said so.

The photographer retorted that he was shooting for an ad campaign that would raise millions of dollars for future aid and relief efforts.

So what, I thought. So what if you raise millions with this photo if you cause immediate harm to the very people you say you are trying to help?

As we offer scholarships and funds through Isis Initiative, Inc., I am aware of the profound responsibility to do no harm with our good intentions.

The late Captain Casey, of Windjammer Company, gave the seed money to start this school on Mayreau, a small island in the Caribbean with one road and 300 residents.

The late Captain Casey, of Windjammer Company, gave the seed money to start this school on Mayreau, a small island in the Caribbean with one road and 300 residents.

Samanda Dorger, our treasurer, brought us a new opportunity to support education on another island, this one in the Grenadines. The story comes to us through Samanda from her friend, Anne Stanley. It’s a chance to carry on a worthy cause and a seafarer’s tradition.

Capt. Cornelius “Casey” Plantefaber died last month after a long and happy career as a tall-ship captain in the Caribbean. Here’s a bit of the story about his work for the school children of Mayreau.

“Casey always seemed to have a love for the water and his career was certainly a reflection of that passion. Initially, Casey ran the Miami Beach Marina for many years until he became involved with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, working as a Fleet Captain, having been at the helm of every one of its sailing vessels.

This leisure cruise line was based out of Miami. Its ships were former yachts and commercial vessels, refurbished as cruise vessels to accommodate 60-100 paying passengers and 20-40 officers and crewmembers at a time. Casey’s job was a main component in his life as he was truly happiest on the open water. He remained with Windjammer for nearly 30 years, working hard to help others enjoy a relaxing and unique vacation experience.

One of the things that made Casey so special was his gigantic heart, coupled with his spirit of compassion. As a Fleet Captain, Casey insisted that every ship’s captain “adopt an island” to sponsor. Casey chose the very poor and desolate Caribbean island of Mayreau, the smallest inhabited island of the Grenadines, with an area of about one-and-a-half square miles, and a population of about 300.

At the time, this island had virtually no commerce and the only school available was off-island for children who had the means. Casey was instrumental in raising funds to establish a local school. Each year, he challenged passengers to provide backpacks filled with school supplies for the local children. He became a legend on the island and passengers delighted in seeing the children run down the hill to the harbor yelling, “Captain Casey! Captain Casey”!

A scholarship in his name has been established to continue providing educational opportunities for the children of this island.”

Isis Initiative, Inc. promotes healing, communication and connection through education and the arts. We currently offer scholarships to women in the Philippines who have the desire but not the resources to pursue a college education.

We are excited to expand our outreach and honor Captain Casey’s legacy helping the school children on Mayreau.

Island Books

May 7, 2009

During a recent visit to Newport/Middletown, Rhode Island, I spent time with my friend June Gibbs. She has been a great supporter of Isis Initiative. When she learned about our latest fundraiser–our Isis Initiative note cards, she took me to her favorite local independent bookstore, Island Books. Judy, the owner, agreed to carry our Isis Initiative note cards on consignment.

We appreciate the support of another local, independent bookstore.

Newport is a great summer destination. If you find yourself in town for sailing, a clam bake, a wedding, the Newport Folk Festival (August 1-2, 2009), the  Newport Jazz Festival (August 8-9, 2009) or a week at the beach, please stop by Island Books on East Main Road. You can support a local business and our global mission of helping women realize their dreams of a college education. Buy a book for a day at the beach. And buy a set of note cards to correspond with your friends and family while you’re on vacation.

Thank you. Oh, and check out the surf at Sachuest Beach while you’re in town!



This portrait of a Kurdish girl is one of six photographs by Cheryl Hatch featured on our new note cards.

This portrait of a Kurdish girl is one of six photographs by Cheryl Hatch featured on our new note cards.

Our note cards are now for sale in two local venues.

Sandy at Grass Roots Bookstore in Corvallis, Oregon agreed to carry the cards on consignment. She’ll start with the set of six, although she thinks they might sell better as individual cards.  

Sandy owns the fabulous independent bookstore with her husband, Jack; and they’ve been serving the community with greats books and music since 1971. They go out of their way to support local artists and authors…and now a local nonprofit. (They also carry my brother J’s latest CD: The Birmingham Sessions by the J Hatch Trio.) Thank you, Jack and Sandy.

Mark, owner of the Country Store in Blodgett, Oregon, has the cards for sale as well. The next time you’re heading to or from the coast on Highway 20, take a break at this local classic. Thank you, Mark.

The set of six retails for $10. A real value. Please stop by and purchase a set. You’ll support great local businesses and a grassroots nonprofit. And when you send the cards, you’ll be helping us raise awareness.

Thank you.


The Kurdish widows are victims of the late Saddam Hussein's anfal campaign. Isis Initiative president Cheryl Hatch created a set of six note cards as a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

The Kurdish widows are victims of the late Saddam Hussein's anfal campaign. Isis Initiative president Cheryl Hatch created a set of six note cards as a fundraiser for the nonprofit. The cards feature women from Africa and the Middle East.


We also offer the note cards as a thank-you give to anyone who donates $50 or more to Isis Initiative, Inc. If you’d like to learn more about Isis Initiative and how to support our work, please visit our Web site at We have already happily sent the cards to a number of our early donors.