Soroptimist Announces 2012 Women’s Opportunity Awards Recipients

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International women’s organization honors three finalists with cash grants to help achieve their educational and career goals.

Soroptimist, an international women’s organization that improves the lives of women and girls, recently announced the 2012 finalists of its Women’s Opportunity Awards. The program provides funding to head-of-household women so they can achieve their career goals by gaining job skills or completing their education. In most cases, this opportunity is one they have not previously had due to economic or social barriers, or personal circumstances.

More than $1.5 million in Women’s Opportunity Awards are disbursed throughout the 19 countries and territories in which Soroptimist operates. The women go on to complete their training or education, and are able to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Each year the program culminates with three finalists, who each receive $10,000, which can be used for tuition, books, childcare, carfare or other education-related expenses. This year’s recipients are: Eri Isozumi of Yaizu-shi Suzuoka, Japan; Dawn M. Johnson of Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada; and Rowena Tutana Navaira of Canumay, a mountain village in the Philippines.

Eri Isozumi
After a serious bout of influenza, one of Eri Isozumi’s three children was never the same. Now 12, he struggles with severe physical challenges, remaining bedridden and requiring special care. To support him and his siblings, ages 13 and 10, Isozumi, who is no longer married to the children’s father, has worked hard, at times juggling several jobs. For some time, she worked overnight at a shipping facility, arriving home in the early morning hours to make the children breakfast and see them off to school. In the afternoon, she would head to a part-time job.

Isozumi 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.

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. Isozumi is using her Women’s Opportunity Award to complete her education and hopes one day to open an assisted-living facility for individuals with special needs.

“There are only three assisted-living facilities for my child in my area,” Isozumi 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 interact and cooperate.”

Dawn M. Johnson

At age 11, Dawn Johnson entered the foster care system after enduring physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at home. At 12, she was introduced to prostitution and began using crack cocaine (as is often the case for girls who were sexually abused). She would later become addicted. At 13, a court ordered her to take part in a drug treatment program. She attempted suicide for the first time, and would later make three more attempts.

For years, Dawn Johnson struggled to overcome this life filled with abuse and addiction. When she became a mother at the age of 16, she got her life back on track for a time, but things took a turn for the worse when she ran away to live with her daughter’s father. She describes him as “an abusive alcoholic,” and says their 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, Johnson 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.

Today, the single mom is working hard to provide a better life for her daughter and niece, to whom she is also the primary caregiver. She is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in child and youth care, an area she is passionate about as a result of the struggles she faced during her own childhood and upbringing. Upon completing her degree, she plans to apply to law school.

She says “I believe that pursuing a degree in law will allow me become a stronger advocate for the people I work with and to impact systemic change with more weight and education behind me.”

Rowena Tutana Navaira

Rowena Tutana Navaira belongs to the Dumagat tribe. She lives in a remote mountain village in the Philippines. Her tribe earns most of their income from farming. Navaira is married to the tribal chieftain. Because he is occupied with official duties, which are unpaid, she serves as the sole financial supporter of four adults—her husband, ailing mother, and siblings—and her own three children.

Navaira is in her second year of a distance -earning 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,” she says.

“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.”

To read more about these three amazing award recipients visit:
Headquartered in Philadelphia, Pa., Soroptimist is an international women’s organization working to improve the social and economic lives of underserved women and girls. Soroptimist’s programs are delivered through a volunteer network that includes members and its online community, A 501©(3) organization, Soroptimist relies on charitable donations to fund its programs. See for more information.

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