Aug 21, 2017

SOAR - Raised Me Up Like Angel to Realize My Dream

Yapend as a Middle School Boy in his Hometown
Yapend as a Middle School Boy in his Hometown

SOAR is like a warm hearted angel and I grew up under her protective wings. My name is Yapeng. I was born in 1990 in Huaihua, Hunan Province. When I was only three, my parents got divorced. The court appointed my father to be my legal guardian and my mother returned to her hometown in Henan alone. In 1998, my father was laid off from work. Given his age, he couldn’t find another decent job and our family had to suffer below the poverty line.

In 2002, my teacher introduced me to Ms. Wu, a volunteer from SOAR. Ms. Wu visited me at school and did thorough research on my background including my family’s financial hardship and talked to people who knew me well. Ms. Wu confirmed that I met all the requirements, and then I was approved for the SOAR scholarship. After that day, my father and I no longer worried about my school tuition and fees. I deeply appreciated the care and consideration of our overseas Chinese to our mainland children. Thus, I set an even higher goal for myself, more optimistic and study harder. With the support of the SOAR scholarships and mentorship, I completed my middle school and high school studies.

In 2008, I graduated from high school and enrolled in Liaoning Art Vocational College to study graphic design. In college, I continued to study hard and aimed to contribute back to society for what SOAR provided. All my monthly and semester assignments and projects were graded as A+. The college kept my graduation design project for exhibition. It was at that moment when I knew I was determined to become a professional designer.

In 2010, I went to Beijing for an internship at Beijing Bahua Visual Design Company. I received high recognition from my boss and colleagues. Because of my excellent performance, my boss offered to hire me as a designer after graduation. So in 2011, I returned to Beijing and joined the company. I participated in designs for clients like the CITIC Group, World Wide Fund for Nature, Space China, Minerals and Metals Group, State Forestry Administration of the PR. China, the 21st Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, China Calligraphers Association, China Film Association, and others. I gained plenty of design experience and successfully completed multiple design cases.

In 2013, after spending three years in Beijing alone, I decided to work on my own startup, Core Brand Studio, back in my hometown. The original investment was merely 30,000 RMB that I saved over the years in Beijing, so I decided to invest it wisely and frugally. I rented an office of 40 square meters, and bought a computer. There were no employees, other than me and my partner who was in charge of business development while I worked on the design. In the beginning, we did not have any clients. But with excellent quality of our design products and our keen due diligence throughout the three years, we have developed the market, built up our client base and brand. Our long term clients include local large enterprise and chain stores, and other companies from nearby cities. Now we are a team of five, and have clients from Guangzhou, Sichuan and Guizhou. In addition, we plan to move to a bigger office at the end of this year. Our startup journey is full of difficulties and happiness. We have accumulated experience such as client communication, marketing research and internal operations. Although we have been quite busy and exhausted, it is rewarding and meaningful.

In August 2015, I married my beloved and now we have a lovely daughter. I grew up from a kid to a father, with more responsibilities. While I enjoy the happiness and success, I will always remember SOAR volunteers. They are like my family. I would not have anything today without their contribution. Without SOAR, I could not go back to school, become a designer, or have my own design company.

Gradually, I started to contribute to the local charitable activities. Although I’m not a millionaire, I want to try my best to help students in poverty like SOAR. I participated in rural areas educational events, organized visits to senior homes, and volunteered to design for some local charity organizations. Whenever I join these events, I always hope that my humble effort would change people’s lives just like SOAR did for me. When those kids grow up and fulfill their dreams, they will also pass the care, love and empathy down by helping other students in poverty.

All in all, plain words are not enough to show my appreciation to SOAR, sincerely and with all my heart. I wish SOAR becomes stronger and better over the years.

Yapeng Today with His Daughter
Yapeng Today with His Daughter
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
 
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