Translate this site:
An international volunteer organization working to improve the lives
2012 Soroptimist Women's Opportunity Awards Finalists
Each year since 1972, Soroptimist has provided financial support to women striving to achieve their dreams despite having faced tremendous obstacles. Through the Women’s Opportunity Awards, Soroptimist has made it possible for these women to fulfill their potential despite domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, and other hardships. They, in turn, have improved the lives of their families and communities.
This year, Soroptimist is honored to award $10,000 to three passionate, hard-working, strong women: Dawn M. Johnson of Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada; Eri Isozumi of Yaizu-shi Suzuoka, Japan; and Rowena Tutana Navaira of Canumay, a mountain village in the Philippines.
Watch Dawn's inspiring video
• At age 11, she entered the foster care system after enduring physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at home.
After she became a mother, Dawn got her life back on track for a time, but things took a turn for the worse when she ran away to Saskatchewan to live with her daughter’s father. She describes him as “an abusive alcoholic,” and says this time together proved to be “a living nightmare.” In the midst of a horrible argument one night, the police took her from their home, and took custody of their daughter.
That, Dawn says, was her wake-up call. “I knew I had to make some major changes in my life,” she says.
She returned to school. She sought help for her addictions. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by years of abuse. Gradually, with counseling and support, she began to heal.
Her daughter was returned to her care within a year. An agency that had helped Dawn asked if she’d like to become a peer mentor. Through that position, she discovered her passion for working with young people. Although she had dropped out of school in the 8th grade, she completed her coursework and earned a diploma in child and youth care. She also became involved in several youth advocacy groups.
Today she is raising her daughter, now in the 6th grade, and her 5-year-old niece, whom she began caring for less than a year ago when her brother died.
Dawn’s Women’s Opportunity Award is helping to relieve some of the financial pressure she feels raising two girls by herself. It will also help her continue her education. She is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in child and youth care and plans to eventually pursue a law degree next.
“Continuing with a law degree will give me the education and legal understanding to further advocate for those I work with,” she says.
“I take pride in being a strong and independent woman,” Dawn adds, “but I have learned how to ask for help. This award is a huge help for my family and my future.”
Eri also was employed at a nursery school. While in this role, she founded a support group for mothers of children with special needs. She became a leader among parents seeking to provide the best medical treatment for these children.
Those who know Eri well say she works incredibly hard and is always smiling. Her vitality and dedication to her children have won her admiration and respect among peers and colleagues.
Currently, she works part time and is studying to become a nationally certified social worker. She is also taking courses to earn a nursery school teaching certificate as well as a degree in psychology. Eri will use her Women’s Opportunity Award to complete her education and hopes to one day open an assisted-living facility for individuals with special needs.
“There are only three assisted-living facilities for my child in my area,” she explains. “I hope to create a place where even persons with severe disabilities can lead a ‘normal’ life, have a purpose, and have human relationships with other people. It would also be a place where parents can be involved.”
Eri recognizes that for such a facility to become a reality, legal reforms and cooperation from city governments and welfare organizations will be indispensable. And so in addition to completing coursework, she sees her time studying at Shizuoka University of Welfare as an opportunity to build a network within these communities that will help her realize her dream.
Rowena Tutana Navaira
For as long as she can remember, Rowena has been passionate about obtaining an education despite the many obstacles she has faced. For instance, limited access to transportation makes it difficult for members of her tribe to obtain formal schooling. It’s more than 15 miles to the nearest town. The walk typically takes three to four hours in good weather, and longer if it rains and the clay mud on the road becomes sticky. A ride on a jeepney to the town center is expensive and hard to come by. For these reasons, many Dumagats do not attend school and never learn to read or write.
Rowena says no one in her village has graduated from college. Maybe she will be the first. At age 37 she is in her second year of a distance-learning program that will lead to a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She studies at home and goes to classes once a month. This flexibility allows her to continue working to support her family.
“I hope to use my marketing degree to help my tribe figure out how we can economically sustain our farming activities while also promoting our culture and developing pride in our heritage,” she says. “That is my duty as the wife of our tribe’s chieftain.”
“The Women’s Opportunity Award is exactly the kind of help I desperately seek to improve my life, the lives of my family and of our tribal community.”
Watch short videos featuring past award recipients
Make a donation to support this program
Interested in helping women through this award-winning program? Visit LiveYourDream.org and find out how!