A high school church mission to the Philippines turned into a life mission for Joanna Maniti of USC.
Inspiration can strike anyone at the most unexpected of times. Whether it's during the morning routine of emptying your bowels or waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green so you can walk ahead, inspiration and ideas never knock at our minds; they let themselves in. However, the question of the moment becomes whether we welcome them with a determined mind and extend their stay with hard work. Something similar went down with Joanna Maniti when she was standing in her “Doing Good: How to Start and Run a Successful Nonprofit Organization” class in 2020, conducted by Kamy Akhavan, executive director of the University of Southern California, Dornsife Center for the Political Future.
On the first day, students were asked to deliver a one-minute pitch on a hypothetical nonprofit. When it was Maniti’s turn, she had prepared her pitch on fundraising for orphanages and schools in the Philippines, inspired by her own trip to the country with her church group in high school. The pitch was her eureka moment when she realized the ‘Why not’ in the idea she herself had imagined for the class. Maniti shared with Daily Trojan, “It was kind of like a lightbulb moment where I had this reflection of, ‘Why haven’t I actually started this during my time at USC?'"
Maniti visited the Pearl of the Orient Seas in 2016 as part of her high school mission trip with her church and that’s when she first witnessed the terrible living conditions of homeless and orphaned Filipino street children. Her second trip was in 2018 on another mission trip when she volunteered at a children’s ministry on the island of Mindanao. After returning, she itched to do more and it was that one class that turned her dreams into reality. "For a while this dream was something that I didn’t want to touch, and I didn’t know how feasible it was or where to even get started," Maniti told USC Dornsife.
She proceeded to start her own nonprofit in 2020, using her USC education and hoping to improve the lives of the orphans of the Philippines and thus founded Cherish Co. with mentorship from Kamy Akhavan and it completed its third founding anniversary this year. She shared, “Right after the class, I just sent out a bunch of emails to old contacts of mine in the Philippines and the first person who responded ended up being our first partnership within Cherish.”
Maniti got in touch with her translator from her high school mission trip, Pastor Ariel Bonte and he informed her that his church was on the lookout for a ministry partner to aid in building an orphanage and school in Mindanao and voila! Maniti’s dream was handed to her in her hands to make it come true. There was no looking back from thereon. She filed Cherish Co. as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in September 2020 and with the sponsorship of All the World Outreach and more donors, Cherish has managed to build an orphanage that can house 34 children, four classrooms, two washing facilities, a dining room and a kitchen.
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Maniti graduated from USC in 2021 and since then has been focusing on Cherish full-time along with pursuing a master’s in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Early this year, Maniti traveled to the Philippines for the first time since founding Cherish, owing to the pandemic restrictions. Watching firsthand the impact that Cherish has had in the Philippines, Maniti shared, “We’ve been trying to take a trip there for the past three years, so being able to go this past year was a milestone for Cherish. [The trip] just further showed the need for this project. There are a ton of street children out there who just don’t have homes to go to or family members. It was a lot of emotions at once.” Maniti’s story really is a true ode to making dreams come true with mentorship, belief and honesty. Holding on to one's dreams is the first step in making them come true. Only if you believe you can, can you really do it.