I thought I was doing a favor for a friend, but I got more than I gave.

A woman I have known since college spent time this spring in a couple of schools in rural Eastern Oregon.

Naively, I offered to help her teach a journalism workshop while she was there, thinking my rural Eastern Oregon roots and connection to the Capital Press might help her connect with small town students.

For the last couple of months, photojournalist Cheryl Hatch has been teaching in the schools and communities in Condon and Fossil.

Ostensibly, she has been there to share her story and her skills as a writer-in-residence. She's been teaching in the high schools there and conducting workshops in the community to help them find ways to tell their own stories and the stories of their neighbors.

In a matter of weeks, Hatch became part of those close-knit communities. I saw it firsthand. As we walked down the streets in Fossil - into the Big Timber Family Restaurant, into the mercantile and the post office - Hatch would greet the people we encountered by name.

She knew the rancher sitting next to the window in the cafe and had taken prom pictures of his granddaughter.

She knew the waitress serving breakfast, the businessman on the street and the woman in the post office, where mail is still hand-stamped. Cheryl Hatch - citizen of the world - had been a stranger to Gilliam and Wheeler counties weeks earlier. Now she is as much a part of the community as the rolling, wheat-covered hills.

If I didn't know better, I would swear Hatch was a native. Hatch has traveled the globe covering news stories, often in war-torn regions where death is a daily part of life.

She's covered Africa and the Middle East for press organizations like Reuters, the Associated Press, Sipa Press and Albatross Press Agency.

She's been a adjunct professor at Oregon State University and a photojournalist for newspapers and the AP here in the Northwest.

"My work is the result of the great generosity of friends and strangers alike," Hatch writes in her biography on her Web site. "I have been privileged and honored to be present at sacred moments, intimate moments when people have trusted me to share their lives and tell their stories."

But it is obvious that people share their stories with Hatch because she shares with them. Their stories are important to her because the people are important to her, whether part of a global crisis in places like Mogadishu, Somalia, or ranch life in Fossil.

I was fortunate to spend the day working with Hatch on April 21 teaching 22 students from Fossil and four from Condon about journalism.

Some of the stories and photos the students produced during our workshop were published on the Capital Press blog.

I thought I was going to help a friend and teach some things I knew to students, but the friend and the students taught me much more.

I got to see an area I knew in my youth through new eyes: the eyes of a friend, a photojournalist and intrepid explorer of the human condition, and the eyes of the next generation of rural students - the farmers, ranchers, teachers and parents of tomorrow.

Maybe, just maybe, one or two students out of that group will follow Hatch's example and help share the stories of others with the world.


Gary L. West is associate editor of the Capital Press. His e-mail is: gwest@capitalpress.com.

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