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May 22, 2017

My Story with SOAR, by Lun native of Shangxi Province, China

Lun, right, with his grandparents & three brothers
Lun, right, with his grandparents & three brothers

     I was born in a family with four boys. Even though my parents worked hard to feed and raise us healthily, school tuition and a variety of other costs of living for four children was a very heavy burden on my family, and simply living frugally was not a viable solution. Our family lived in the mountains with no stable source of income. What little we did came from my father, who spent off-farming seasons excavating and selling Chinese herbs from the mountain. I still remember my Mom standing at the intersection every night, waiting for him to return from the remote mountains dozens of kilometers away where he had gone to dig for herbs.

     As an effort to give us a better education, my father sent our four brothers to attend schools in the city. My grandparents strongly opposed this idea, and even tried to convince him to let my elder brother drop out of school and take up an apprenticeship in town. The neighbors also did not understand my parents: why put so much effort into keeping all four boys in school? But my father was adamant in giving us as much education as possible.
Life was even more difficult in the city. We had no land, no house, and four growing boys with appetites to feed, making the cost of living even higher than before. Despite the nine-year compulsory education laws, junior high school came with a host of fees that my family could not afford. At that time, life was extremely onerous for my parents: they lost sleep every night and my father’s hair was whitening quickly.

     But the good fortune of the Luck Goddess finally fell upon my family. One day in 9th grade, my father returned from school to happily inform the family that a SOAR education foundation had granted me a RMB 600 Yuan scholarship (about $100) a year, an incredible addition to the $2 my mother was making each day! Father flushed with excitement, holding together my application and a newsletter, which gave us our first introduction to the generous people of SOAR. For a few days my home was filled with great relief and joy, and everyone was very happy. Since then I have been truly grateful to SOAR.

     After graduating from junior high, I was admitted to the only focus high school in the county. At the same time, however, my Grandfather was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer and passed away after a month of hospitalization. The extra medical expenses undoubtedly thrust our family further into poverty and weighed down on my parents. With my two older brothers also in high school, and a younger brother still in junior high, we all faced a real possibility of dropping out. Finally, my father took a loan to pay for my high school enrollment. Soon afterwards I received a letter from SOAR, informing me that I was eligible to apply for another SOAR scholarship. This provided an immediate solution to the crises, and dropping out was no longer necessary. Father was very careful about my application, he helped me neatly fill out the forms and had me write drafts of essays. I remember once in junior year, I was not careful and stained the application form with ink. Father was so frustrated and angry that he scolded me, afraid this might affect my application. Fortunately SOAR sent the financial aid on time.

     When I went to college, my family faced even more expenses than before with two older brothers also attending college, my Mom in poor health, and my Grandmother needing financial support. But with the aid of SOAR college scholarships, which paid for most of my college tuition and living expenses, I pressed on with higher education. Luckily, my college was close to Beijing, and in 2012 I met with other SOAR alumni and staff for the first time, and witnessed the establishment of the SOAR Alumni Association there. Over the next three years I met with this lovely group of people several times a year, led by Teacher Zhu. I listened to our shared experiences and learned many valuable lessons, feeling inspired by so much talent in this big SOAR family. Eventually, I started to actively participate in the SOAR Alumni Association: organizing annual alumni gathering, participating in the application review process, and serving as a mentor to junior high scholarship winners. I understood that it was time for me to do my part and repay the kindness of SOAR.

    Now, I am a graduate student studying Geophysics with a famous professor. My mother accredits the possibility of my success to SOAR. When my family could not afford to keep me in school, it was SOAR who provided me with many years of scholarships. After I enrolled in college, it was SOAR that provided a supporting group near my college and continued opportunities for growth. I feel lucky and happy with SOAR’s love and support. I give thanks to SOAR and wish the foundation best luck in the future.

     In the past 22 years, SOAR has supported more than 1,000 students like Lun every year, all over China, many with multi-year scholarships until they graduated from high school or college, to the grand total of more than 9,000 students. Many of these SOAR Scholarship winners attended or are about to attend colleges, have become productive members and leaders of the society, and are ready to give back to SOAR to help the next generation of scholarship recipients. 

Lun and Ms. Zhu, left and right, at a SOAR event
Lun and Ms. Zhu, left and right, at a SOAR event
SOAR Students, all over China, 1995-2016
SOAR Students, all over China, 1995-2016
Feb 20, 2017

Thankful! - From Li, A SOAR Scholarship Recipient

Li with Her Older Brother in Her Hometown
Li with Her Older Brother in Her Hometown

As one of the beneficiaries of the SOAR Foundation, learning to be thankful is the greatest gift I got from the SOAR Community!

I was an introverted girl with a low self-esteem from rural Sichuan, and I had twice faced a dropout crisis first in high school and then in college. After junior high school, my family intended to let me go out to work to earn money like many other kids in my hometown. Life at home is hard just to survive, education for the village kids seemed too extravagant a luxury to afford. Back then, the theory of Useless Education was very popular in China, especially in rural areas. People thought that every line of business produces its own champion through apprenticeship without a formal education, and it seems superfluous to insist on an education for those who could not afford it. Joining the labor market early can also feed our families as soon as possible. Once I was even doubtful of the value of education. Now I can very strongly affirm, contrary to many people’s perceptions, education has already given me an opportunity to move to a big city, and obtain knowledge in college lecture halls as a law student, my experience proves that education is useful!

In ninth grade, I was lucky enough to be awarded a SOAR scholarship. I did not have to drop out of school and SOAR had become my lucky star, because it provided annual scholarships all through high school.  After college entrance exams, I was admitted to my dream school in Chengdu, the first one to go to college in my family! My father and my whole family were very proud of me and supported my decision to enroll. But college costs much more than high school, and my family still have difficulties paying for it. After graduating from high school, I did not receive any information about college scholarship from SOAR. I tried my luck again by writing to my sponsor, Ms. Xu, as listed on my SOAR Named Scholarship, hoping to get in touch with her to apply for a SOAR college scholarship. I thanked her for supporting my high school education since 9th grade, saving me from dropping out then. Now I am facing another drop-out crisis, this time from college! But my letter lost its envelope in the process of transmitting from SOAR’s office in Beijing to San Francisco, until a determined SOAR volunteer in San Francisco tracked me down on WeChat to follow up on my request. Imagine my surprise when getting a chat message on my cell phone six months later! I was too sensitive, and I could not believe that I got a reply to my letter from six months ago, from a stranger. This is how I returned to SOAR, and rejoined the big SOAR family.

Last July, SOAR Foundation Nominators Conference was held in Xi'an, China, I shared my bewilderment with Ms. Xu while volunteering at the event: "Why some people suffer a bitter fate of life while other people enjoy the sweet paradise in life.” All my college roommates are from the big cities, every one of them is an only child. I am from the remote mountains, and my family has to support three children in school. Other families have background and connections, and mine does not. My roommates have financial safety nets, and I do not. People like me with no background can only find success in life through relentless effort. Ms. Xu told me that life is not fair, but each success is built on previous struggles and efforts, and more efforts leads to greater success. In this struggle, education is the great equalizer. SOAR creates a more leveled playing field, providing access to education, opportunities and success in college and beyond.

Now a sophomore in college, I rely on SOAR’s scholarship for tuitions and room and board. For living expenses, even though I never asked for money from my parents, my bank account is never too short of money, because my father always sends my living expense the moment he gets paid his monthly wage, because he wants me to live more comfortably in the city. I work very hard on my studies, ranking high in my class. I desperately work for my own success and a better life for my family. I also hope to help others however I can, just like the SOAR volunteers who helped me, with the same love and spirit. No joy without hard work, no gain without pain, and happiness comes from overcoming misfortunes and challenges.

Before I met with the SOAR team in Xi’an, I have been at a loss about a question, why would SOAR donors help us students in rural China whom they have never met? And for what reason we could accept this generosity? After getting a good introduction of SOAR’s mission and programs in Xi’an, I began to understand that SOAR has a purpose to help us complete our education, and everything is derived from love. Many SOAR team members were retired grandparents in the US, they are extremely sincere, and they make me feel so warmly received as if I was a family member. Indeed, SOAR is a big loving family, and in this family, our work, study and life experiences are exchanged and encouraged. Every member of SAOR community has a responsibility. We are the beneficiaries of SAOR’s love and generosity, and naturally we should pass on the love and give back to the SOAR community.

Each SOAR scholarship recipient has his/her own story of almost dropping out of school. We are lucky to be recognized by SOAR. SOAR does not simply give us financial support to continue our education, but also guidance to our lives and careers! Any doubts, any sufferings, SOAR will face them along with us!

Thank you, SAOR Foundation!

Li (right) at SOAR Conference in Xi'an, July 2016
Li (right) at SOAR Conference in Xi'an, July 2016
Nov 23, 2016

My Story - From Xiaojie, A SOAR Alumna

Xiaojie with her teacher and classmates in school
Xiaojie with her teacher and classmates in school

I have many stories about SOAR, especially the story of how destiny led me to SOAR. Before SOAR came into my life, I was a middle school dropout.  I was thirteen years old, and like many other children in my village, I was busy working in the field day and night.  One day, in tears, I wrote a note in my crooked handwriting “Teacher, I want to go to school, please help me!”  I asked my friend to take it to my elementary school teacher.  

Why did I send such a message?  This goes back to my childhood.  When I was three, my father (who I later learned that was actually my adopted father) and my 13-year-old brother encountered a terrible storm when they were herding cattle in the mountains.  I heard that my brother’s digital watch caused both of them to get hit by lightning and die.  My adopted mother took me to live with  the third  of her seven daughters.   My adopted sister had two kids, and she also had to support her in-laws.  When I was nine years old, my adopted mother died of a stroke all of a sudden and left me all alone in the world.  Her death was a big blow to me, and caused me to become increasingly silent.  I was constantly afraid, and I had frequent red-eye diseases  from crying too much.  Fortunately I had a very kind adopted sister, who started taking care of me like a mother.  It was not unusual that kids from poor families quit school to help out in the field.  My adopted brother-in-law a farmer, was a straightforward person.  He told me not to go to school any more but stay at home to help the grownups with the farm work.  I quietly listened to him and agreed.  

It was the week in June that the entrance exams to middle school were going on, but I had to work in the field with the grownups.  Maybe luck started favoring me from that day on.  It  suddenly began to rain in the morning, so we couldn’t go to the field to work.  I confided in my adopted sister that I wanted to take the entrance exams.  My sister sent me off with a packet of Ramen noodles. I took the exams and got top scores.  However on the first day of middle school, I did not attend.  China had just rolled out the nine-year compulsory education policy.  Officials from the school district started to visit rural families whose kids didn’t go to middle school.  Due to my orphan status, my address had been registered with my adopted sister’s old address, the school officials couldn’t find me.  But because of that hand-written note sent from me, my elementary school teacher from fifth grade took the school district officials to my house and tried to convince my family to let me go to middle school.  My adopted brother-in-law agreed to it, but just couldn’t afford it.  I postponed my registration. That autumn, my elementary school teacher brought me the good news that the I was selected to receive financial support from the SOAR Foundation.

When I received the letter and 680 Yuan (about $100) from SOAR, I finally could return to school to continue my study.  I was like a fish returning to water saved by SOAR.

I am not an extremely  smart kid, but I loved learning, because I knew that was the only way to improve my life.  I didn’t have grand goals. I just wanted to leave the village I lived in, where we didn’t even have a major street.  I remember dreaming about opening a big supermarket in town one day, and it would have a lot of green vegetables, as we didn’t have many green vegetables, let alone fresh fruits.  We barely had enough to eat to survive at the time.

I didn’t do well in the high school entrance exams so I didn’t get admitted into a top high school.  My brother-in-law thought there was no point to continue my study if I didn’t go to a good high school, so once again I was prepared to quit.  That was when I received a letter from my SOAR mentor, Ms. Cui, who shared with me her personal stories to encourage me to keep up with my study.  I became more determined, and I mustered up enough courage to negotiate with my brother-in-law for the first time.  I cried to him, “As long as you agreed to let me go to high school, I won’t spend a penny of yours.  Although I cannot help you work in the field to make money, when I come back to visit you in the future, I’ll definitely bring you more than just a few bags of milk powder!” (His daughter only had up to 5th grade education, and when she came home to visit after she was married, she would only bring some milk powder.)  My brother-in-law was moved and agreed.  I went back to high school.  I got excellent grades in high school, so school gave me financial support.  It spared me any additional charge outside the 2,040 Yuan (about $400) that the SOAR Foundation was giving me.  In 2006 I got admitted into North China Electric Power University in Beijing.  I took train for the first time and travelled to Beijing to begin my four-year college life.  After I graduated in 2010, I switched jobs a few times until I settled down as an accountant in the Chia Tai Group. When I was Beijing, the person I was the most thankful to was Ms. Kejia Zhu.  She was both my mentor and my good friend.  She gave me advice on all aspects of my life including my dating and career life.  

I settled down in Beijing when I got married in 2012.  After I had my first child, I quit my job, and now I am a stay-at-home mom, welcoming a second child soon.  Despite these plain words that I type on my computer, this is my real life experience that I lived through.  I’m very grateful for everything I have, and my rich life experience is a great asset to me.  

I feel the love from all around me, therefore I give back endless love to the world.  Even though I found out after I got married that my biological parents were still alive, living in a remote village with their four daughters, and even though I found out that I was the result of their unfair preference for a son over a daughter,  all this no longer really affected how I felt.  When people asked me if I hated my biological parents for deserting me, I honestly don’t hate them at all.  Perhaps it’s because I had received so much love from others in my life. I always remembered how my adopted sister took good care of me.  I was grateful that my brother-in-law took me in.  I was especially grateful to my parents for adopting me despite the fact that they already had many children of their own. Maybe they didn’t have the heart to see me abandoned at just three days old. I’m grateful to my kind teachers.  I’m grateful to SOAR for finding me in such a remote village, and helping me return to school.  I’m grateful for meeting my husband in college, where he noticed me, a very   thin girl who  was always the last one to the cafe and always only buying a bowl of fried rice and some pickles.  It was he who helped me eat better and live a more exciting life in college.  I’m extremely grateful for my lovely daughter and the happy family life she brought me.  I’ve received so much love in my life that I don’t feel a shred of hatred.  With ease I will accept whatever cards life deals me, but I will not allow fate to dictate my path.  We cannot choose what life we are born into, but we can choose how we want to live our life!

Ever since destiny brought SOAR to my life, I have been extremely lucky.  I believe that all the other children SOAR helps will also be equally lucky if they stay their course and work hard for a better life.  Lucky stars will favor all of you, and SOAR will bring you good fortune.  Come on, you can do it, my little brothers and sisters!

Xiaojie and her family in Beijing, 2015
Xiaojie and her family in Beijing, 2015
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