N'tuma Bangura, 22, of Freetown, is the first recipient of "Leah's Dream" scholarship in Sierra Leone. She tested into the second year of her nursing program.

In an earlier post, I wrote that we had learned of a young woman, Lillian G. N. Baio, in Sierra Leone, who would be an excellent candidate for our first scholarship in the war-ravaged country. Lillian’s foster family moved and Lillian is not able to continue her studies at present.

We are lucky to be working with Abdul Koligbonda Lebbie, who runs the Network on Disadvantaged Children. He located four more young women who are highly qualified and keen to attend college. Since this is our first year in Sierra Leone, we chose to select one scholarship recipient. Next year, we’ll look at our funds and Ms. Bangura’s success and decide how to continue. We are committed to funding Ms. Bangura’s entire university education.

Here’s what she wrote in her application essay (without corrections):

“I believe education is a right for all. This is appeared in the human rights documents Universal Declaration Human Rights–UDHR, UN Security Resolution 1325.

As an educated nurse/medical doctor, I personally will benefit economically as I will be well paid and will increase my respect in society. This will be able to help me educate my future children who will not suffer like me in terms of marginalisation.

I believe education will help me  rise up above poverty and become a pillar in my family to help others.

It is my dream to establish a medical centre that will cater for the less previledge. I will also use my skill to increase awareness on health and sanitation in my community. My focus will be on maternal health, infant mortality, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

As a teenage girl, I grew up in a community plague with high rate of illiteracy and teenage pregnancy. It is my desire to mitigate the above situation with will hlep to increase participation in my community and Sierra Leone as a whole.”

We are honored to help support Ms. Bangura’s pursuit of her dream.

Lillian G. N. Baio poses for a portrait in her Sunday best in Sierra Leone. Lillian has begun the application process for a scholarship from Isis Initiative, Inc. She wants to pursue studies in Peace and Conflict. Photo by Betty Press

We are excited to announce we plan to offer a scholarship to a young woman in Sierra Leone. Lillian G. N. Baio completed secondary school with financial support through a program and grant by the International Rescue Committee.  She wanted to continue her education, yet there were no additional funds available. She wants to major in Peace and Conflict studies and we want to help.

Sierra Leone is slowly recovering from 11 years of brutal civil war, which ended in 2002. If you’ve seen the movie “Blood Diamond” or read “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, you know something of the war’s depravity and devastation. The average annual income is Sierra Leone is $220. The adult literacy rate is 27 percent (Source: UNESCO EFA Monitoring Report 2009), one of the lowest in the world.

We are grateful to friends of Cheryl Hatch, Bob and Betty Press, who recommended Lillian for a scholarship. Bob and Betty worked for years as journalists in Africa. When Bob received a Fulbright grant, the couple spent a year from 2008 to 2009 in Sierra Leone.

We expect to pay about $850 annually for tuition, room and board, books, uniforms and other expenses.

You can learn more about Isis Initiative, Inc. and our work at www.isisinitiative.org. You’ll find a link to our PayPal account if you’d like to support Lillian’s education.

Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel laureate, signed my journal after I interviewd her during PeaceJam at Oregon State University on April 24, 2010.

I met Jody Williams at Starker Arts Garden for Education near Corvallis, Oregon. She had joined a group of PeaceJam students for a community outreach project. I was interviewing her for a daily feature for our Sunday community section front.

As we walked up a path toward the garden, I told her that I had been an international correspondent, that I had covered conflict and its aftermath, focusing on those caught in the crossfire. I told her I never liked being called a war photographer. Sure, it sounds sexy to some people. It sounds dangerous and exotic. It has mystique and cachet, this title of war photographer. But it wasn’t the right label for me. I wasn’t interested in the bang-bang although the bullets and bombs sometimes came with the package.

In my work, I had noticed it was the men who were shooting, killing people and getting high. It was the women who were volunteering in the orphanages and the hospitals. The women were running the businesses and the markets. I focused my attention and my lenses on the women and children.

I thanked her for her work on the campaign to ban land mines. I told her it was an honor to meet her. I told her about Isis Initiative, Inc. and she told me about her organization, the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

She said she would offer us her support and gave me her contact information. I’m inspired by her willingness to engage so openly with our work and mission. I believe there are good opportunities for support and collaboration between our organizations.

Thank you, Jody, for your support, your activism and your commitment to gender justice and peace.

A Good Question

November 14, 2009

Cheryl?

It’s stated with the upsweep intonation of a question.

“What are you doing back at the GT?

I’m sitting in Francesco’s gelato cafe in downtown Corvallis. I sometimes sit in a comfy chair by the window in the evenings and write my blog entry, taking advantage of their free wi-fi and the lively atmosphere.

I look up and toward the direction of the voice.

Karl  Maasdam. With his wife and two lovely daughters.

Good question. He’s the first to ask it directly since I returned to the Gazette-Times on October 28, 2009.

I have answers. None are easy. Or short. None that can quickly respond to a man with his family waiting by the door to exit.

“My non-profit,” I say.

Karl worked at the Gazette-Times as a staff photographer after I left a position vacant when I went to graduate school. He eventually left the newspaper to start his own successful photography business in town.

I had asked myself the same question before I accepted the job. Why return? There were many reasons not to return.

Yet, I wanted to write again and I wanted a steady income stream–to help nourish and support the growth of Isis Initiative, Inc. For two years, Isis Initiative has been my passion and my focus–on my time. I made those volunteer hours work by working independently–and sporadically.

I wrote freelance articles. I received a Writer-in-Residence appointment from Fishtrap. Inc. last spring. I taught high school journalism and photography in Condon and Fossil, Oregon. I did public relations and media consulting.

I had freedom–time to focus on my health and my nonprofit. I loved those years of liberty–and I struggled in them.

I chose a time of solitude and healing.

Now I’ve chosen to use my time and talent in service to my local community while I build a nonprofit that serves women worldwide.

I get paid to write. I have the privilege and sacred trust of listening to people’s stories and sharing them with others.

And, I have a stable income that grounds me as I grow the nonprofit. (It would be great if President and First Lady Obama would respond to my letters and donate some of the Nobel Peace Prize award money to Isis Initiative.)

I’m working locally and making a difference globally.

I put my cameras down. I didn’t want to carry them anymore–nor carry the burden of the events and images I’ve photographed over the past two decades covering breaking news and war.

I photograph now when I write. I see details and capture them–write them down. I arrange vignettes of a story as if I were moving slides on a light table to prepare a slide show.

I am still a visual storyteller. And I dig it.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Dear President Obama

October 30, 2009

When President Obama announced that he’d give the $1.4 million from his Nobel Peace Prize award to charity, a thought flashed through my mind.

Write him a letter. Ask him to consider donating a portion of the money to Isis Initiative, Inc.

I wrote him. And I asked my friends and supporters of our work to write him a letter, too. If you believe in what we’re doing, please write him a letter.

I believe. I believe the request will reach his ears. And I believe he’ll respond. Join me in making an appeal and making a difference for women around the world.

Below is the text of the letter I wrote him on October 22, 2009

 

Dear President Obama:

I walked into a 7-Eleven the morning the Nobel committee announced you had received the Peace Prize.

“You like President Obama,” the cashier asked. “Yes, I do,” I said.

“I can’t talk to you,” she said, handing me my change. “Why?”

“Why does he deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?” she responded.

“Because he took a stand,” I answered.

“Against what?”

“Not against something,” I said. “He took a stand for something.”

I am inspired by and proud of the way you’re leading our country: with dignity and civility, vision and strength. I am heartened by your commitment to improve the quality of life for all on our planet.

I am writing to you, Mr. President, because you said you would donate your $1.4 million ward to charity. I ask with the same humbleness with which you acknowledged the Nobel Peace Prize, that you consider donating some of that money to Isis Initiative, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit I created. www.isisinitiative.org

We are a small, grassroots organization that promotes healing, connection and communication through education and the arts. We are particularly committed to offering scholarships to women overseas who have the desire but not the resources to pursue a college education.

For more than a decade, I worked to make a difference as a photojournalist. I covered the aftermath of war and its devastating affects on women and children. I used to hope that my photographs would change the world. www.isisphotos.com

In 2003, I chose not to cover the second Iraq War. You can read the complete story of how an accident in a jungle in the Philippines inspired me to create Isis Initiative, Inc. https://isisinitiative.wordpress.com/leahs-story

I now believe the real power for change exists in the relationships and good will between individual human beings. We change the world one person at a time.

President Obama, I believe dedicating some portion of the money you’ll receive from your Nobel Peace Prize to Isis Initiative, Inc. will go a long way to creating new opportunities for women, and thereby, for all of us.

Thank you for your attention and consideration. And thank you for the fine example you set with your leadership.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Hatch

 

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.