March 24, 2015

"That's when we learned what optimism was all about."

China Daily Angie Kang, a student at Los Gatos High School in the San Francisco Bay Area, shared with other high school students her experience last summer at a mountain school in Xi'an, West China. By LIA ZHU

'"With every struggle, I began to understand a little more of what my parents went through … what the children who live in the mountain school are currently going through," she said in an essay she wrote after returning back home.

'Far from the affluent Bay Area, Kang, with her mother, spent a few weeks at the rural Chinese school, where her mother taught music and she helped with the class.

'"I find it difficult to slip back into my American life," Kang wrote in the essay. "Sometimes I'm struck with the sheer unfairness of the luck of the draw, the privilege I was handed through the work of my parents.

'"Perhaps my privilege can't be helped," she said. "But I can help the ones who don't have the privilege."

'With this essay and a painting depicting a boy doing homework while helping his parents with their restaurant business, Kang won the first prize for the Summer/Winter Experience Competition organized by the IvyMax Foundation, which aims to promote involvement of students in community philanthropy.

'"The parents from China and other Asian countries put so much emphasis on their children's academic performance and tend to overlook the importance of serving the community," said Vickie Zhang, co-founder of the IvyMax Foundation.

'"Four or five years ago, we launched a summer program organizing Chinese-American students to visit orphanages and rural schools in West China. After they came back, we found them ‘changed' – they learned to be grateful," Zhang said. "And that's the reason to hold such a competition."

'Open to US students between the ages of 12 and 18, the competition solicited thought-provoking works, including essays, paintings and videos, to demonstrate the students' efforts in philanthropy projects in the hopes of inspiring their peers to participate as well.

'This year, around 80 students submitted their works. Besides the Summer/Winter Experience prize, eight students' clubs were awarded the prizes of "Students' Clubs Sponsorship Plan" by presenting their projects and development plans.

'Caroline Zhou, 16, from California High School in San Ramon, received the third prize on behalf of the group "Public Health Students' Club", which has more than 10 members now.

'She and her group visited a rural village in Northwest China's Ningxia region last summer on a tour organized by IvyMax, where the group was divided into three teams responsible for studying the local lifestyle and sanitation, interviewing residents, and shadowing local doctors.

'"We found their drinking water was taken from the Yellow River, which was contaminated," said Zhou. "So we started a project of purifying the water," said Zhou, whose parents are a doctor and engineer.

'"Drinking the contaminated water can cause liver cancer and hypertension," added William Liao, 17, from Dublin Quarry Lane School, whose parents are doctors. "But we were surprised how optimistic the villagers were, even if they knew the water was polluted. That's when we learned what optimism was all about."

'Back home, the students didn't stop their public health project in Ningxia.

'"We held auctions to help raise money," said Zhou. So far, hundreds of dollars have been raised and sent to the village. "We plan to register our club as non-profit organization so as to increase community exposure to local health issues," she said.'

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