A Woman On A Mission
This past February, Nita Matheson returned to Naval, her hometown on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, for the first time in 34 years. On her person were stashed several envelopes containing a total of $10,000 in cash. No one knew she was coming. The only person expected by her Philippine contacts was a man named Brett Hawkes.
Was she drug running? Arranging a spy payoff?
Neither. Matheson, a program analyst in the Air Traffic Organization, was delivering on a promise she made to herself when she first came to this country in 1971: "It had been my intention when I came here I would like to give back to the community where I came from," she said.
"Using her own money — plus some donations from friends — Matheson paid for 10 computers and workstations, a digital camera, printer, school supplies and Internet service for Naval Central Elementary School's William F. Matheson Computer Laboratory, named after her late husband, a retired U.S. Air Force officer. She also paid to refurbish the lab with fresh paint and new tile.
For months she had worked with a Filipino contact named Noel Pla, who arranged to buy the computers without ever having met Matheson and counting only on her word that she would pay. "He trusted me! Would you believe that? He didn't ask for a down payment for all these things," Matheson marveled.
On the day of the lab's commissioning, Matheson showed up unannounced. Standing next to Pla in the lab, she watched as he demonstrated the computer's capability. Only then did she introduce herself. "He could not talk. It looked like he'd seen a ghost," she chuckled.
Matheson grew up in a privileged family. Her mother was a teacher and her father was mayor of Naval. As a child, Matheson's mother would talk about the slum conditions in which many of her students lived. Some did not go to school because they didn't have proper clothing; others, because they didn't have books, pencils and other supplies. So her mother promised to buy them white T-shirts and supplies if they'd return to school. "I just followed what my mom was doing," said Matheson.
Although she could live a relative life of ease in the Philippines, Matheson did not want to depend on her parents all her life. Like so many immigrants, she looked to the United States. "It was really my ambition to come to this country. I want to make my own future."
Although she had extensive training in the medical field, her first jobs involved clerical work for an FAA contractor. Her strong work ethic impressed her FAA bosses, and she was hired by the Western-Pacific Region in 1989. "There are so many opportunities if you really work hard. I just found out if you're not lazy, you can move up if you're willing to learn."
For students at the elementary school who share the same work ethic, they now have some tools to achieve their dreams.
"Had it not [been] for the computers donated by Ma'am Nita, we will be left behind the trend," said Mel Morillo, a sixth grader. "This is my first time to use a computer and I am learning very fast. Maybe I am now ready to go to high school."
"By using the computer, we're like playing while learning," said Ruzzia Laude, a third grader.
Even the instructors sound excited. Norma de Paz, a sixth-grade teacher, said the computer lab serves as a library. "My Grade VI pupils are already using the Internet in doing their assignments," she said. "Sometimes, they are more updated than myself."
For many Leyteños, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous vow during WWII, "I shall return," still rings in their ears. Nita Matheson vowed to return and she did — about ten thousand fold.
About the Author: Focus FAA the in-house publication of the Federal Aviation Authority in the U.S. Issue No. 7 dated July 5, 2005