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  2010 Soroptimist Women's Opportunity Awards Finalists

Women overcoming obstacles to live their dreams – that’s what Soroptimist's signature program, the Women’s Opportunity Awards, make possible. Since 1972, Soroptimist has disbursed more than $25 million to help thousands of women triumph over domestic violence, poverty, drug abuse and other challenges to reclaim their dreams. This year, Soroptimist awarded $10,000 to three remarkable women: Lisa M. Boyd of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Myla H. Ningala of Baliwag, Bulacan, the Philippines; and Kimberly M. Thompson, of Ashland, Oregon. Read the stories of these incredible women.

Lisa M. Boydvideo

Watch a short video featuring Lisa as she shares her amazing story.

Lisa Boyd

In 2002, Lisa Boyd found herself with two babies living on an isolated and derelict property, without the proper amenities to sustain daily living. She had no indoor plumbing, no hot running water, no heat, phone or vehicle—and most of all, no escape.

Lisa also suffered financial, sexual, emotional, physical, mental and verbal abuse at the hands of her drug-addicted husband. The situation was at its worst when she was harassed and terrorized by violent people to whom her husband was in drug-related debt.

“I hid with my children in an old chicken coop in the barn,” Lisa recalls. “I literally waited for my opportunity to walk miles into town with my babies and call the police. But I was petrified the authorities would take away my children.”

The police and Family & Children’s Services, however, found Lisa to be a loving, caring mother, who needed an opportunity to start over. Not wanting to go to a shelter or into subsidized housing, Lisa cashed in a life insurance policy and sold some belongings, so she could survive.

Soon after the house she was living in was condemned, Lisa met a woman wearing a “Habitat for Humanity T-shirt. She questioned the woman about the organization, hoping that someday she could apply for a Habitat home. The woman, sizing up Lisa’s situation, offered her and her children a basement apartment in her home.

“She and her husband are both police officers and have two young daughters, just like me,” Lisa says, “and if ever I had to call anyone family, they are family! They support me so much during this pursuit of my academics.”

Today, despite being newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative neuromuscular disease, Lisa is pursuing her dream of becoming a social service worker. Nominated for the Women’s Opportunity Award by Soroptimist International of Guelph in Canada, Lisa plans to graduate with a social service worker diploma from Conestoga College in Kitchener Ontario in 2011.

“As a social service worker, I intend on providing front-line service to those who are marginalized within our communities,” she says. “This encompasses immigrants, the elderly, women, children, drug addicts, people with mental health issues, the homeless, the unemployed—anyone in need of a helping hand to see them through their crisis.”

Her decision to return to school also benefits her daughters, she says. “It will give them a positive view of parenting and a sense of empowerment as they reflect on the challenges I face as a single mother. They will also gain a positive attitude toward women entering academics at any age, under any circumstances.”

Receiving the award at the Soroptimist 41st Biennial Convention in San Francisco, Lisa says, “My children are an integral part of my journey and growth and they were fortunate to be in the room when I received the first two awards (club and region) and when they turned and saw all the power in that room – and women in power in a room are different than men in a power – they had a new view of the world and women.”

Most important, the award has eased financial burdens for Lisa who admits to always walking a fine line financially. “A $10,000 award was like receiving $100,000 for me,” says Lisa. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to receive this award.

Myla H. Ningala

Myla H. Ningala of Baliwag, Bulacan, the Philippines, became a victim of human trafficking when she tried to escape poverty and create a better life for herself and her children. Always a good student, she had to drop out in her third year of high school to help her sick mother and earn money to help support the family.

Myla eventually was able to enroll in college, but in her first year, she again had to drop out because her mother could no longer afford to pay tuition. She found factory work where she met the father of her three children, but after five years he left her, without explanation.

“I tried to sell whatever commodities in the market I could to augment our daily needs,” she says. “I had to work hard to earn our living. Poverty pushed me to dream of something great for my kids, but my earnings were not enough to give them a better life and give them a good future.”

Myla had always dreamed of working abroad when a neighbor approached her, asking if she wanted to work in Malaysia. She thought it was the answer to her prayers. Even though the salary was meager, it would provide a proper life. With the few earnings she had, Myla borrowed money from a friend, bought a ticket and headed off to Malaysia, leaving her children behind with her mother.

That’s when her nightmare began. Her employers, a married couple, forced her to take drugs, and verbally, physically and sexually abused her. At one point, she managed to use her cell phone to call her mother for help, but when her employers caught her, they beat her, confiscated her phone and locked her in her room. For days and weeks, she was often imprisoned in her room without food.

Myla finally managed to escape by writing a note, “Please help me!” and throwing it out the window. A security guard found the note and rescued her, but then she was homeless, with no money, on the streets of Malaysia.

For seven months, she did what she could to survive. She washed clothes and ran errands, but she was arrested by the Malaysian police and thrown into prison. Confined in a cramped cell, she and the other prisoners had to sit in the hot sun for hours at a time. They had little food or water and had to use the toilet six at the same time. When a co-prisoner was being rescued, Myla begged her to get in touch with her mother, who eventually was able to arrange Myla’s release from prison.

Nominated for the Women’s Opportunity Award by Soroptimist International of Baliwag, Philippines, Myla is now working on her bachelor of science degree in business administration at Baliwag University, majoring in computer science.

“I think the good Lord was paving the way so I could meet the Soroptimists and through them, given the chance to receive the Women’s Opportunity Award,” Myla says. “I can now fulfill my dreams in life for my kids and for my mother.”

Kimberly M. Thompson
Watch a short video about Kimberly where she talks about her amazing story.

Lisa Boyd

For the first 21 years of her life, Kimberly M. Thompson of Ashland, Oregon, suffered chaos and instability. Her mother was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and her father was equally unstable, causing Kimberly and her six siblings to be removed from their home. Living in the foster care system from the age of 10, she was moved often, and suffered emotional abuse at the hands of a foster mother. She was told frequently that she would end up like the rest of her family, on drugs and homeless.

After graduating from high school, she found herself alone and with no family to support her. She found work, met a man, and ended up pregnant and in an abusive relationship. She admits it took courage to walk away and start a whole new life. “I knew that I would rather be homeless than allow him to beat me in front of my little girl,” she says.

Kimberly did become homeless, living in a car with her daughter. They eventually moved in with her sister, sleeping on her sister’s sofa for six months, until she was forced to move again. Working at minimum wage jobs, Kimberly knew she had to go back to school to make her life better for herself and her daughter. Her friends kept encouraging her to go on for higher education, but Kimberly needed to work. “I also knew I couldn’t keep working at minimum wage. It was really hard, so for my daughter’s sake, I needed to do this,” she says.

Nominated for the Women’s Opportunity Award by the Ashland, Oregon, Soroptimist club, today Kimberly is studying for her associates degree in early childhood education at Rogue Community College in Medford, Oregon. With a 3.8 GPA, she plans to graduate in 2011, the first in her family to earn a college degree. “How amazing is that!” she says.

Kimberly is also employed with the Head Start Program. “I love every aspect of my job,” she says. “I have always felt the need to help children and teach them, and being a former foster child, education has been my outlet for a better life.”

Most important, Kimberly wants to give her daughter some valuable lessons. “I want to show her that you can be anything you want by working hard and getting a good education,” she says. “I want her to grow up knowing she is loved and has a bright future ahead of her.”

Receiving her award at the Soroptimist 41st Biennial Convention in San Francisco, Kimberly says, “Soroptimist really helped me regain my confidence, that I can pursue my dreams and that there are other women out there who support me. That it’s not just me, by myself. It’s like a dream come true.”

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