From Zero to Peru and USC by Yang Camp’s Chief Camp Aide, Silvia Li Sam

I remember conversations with my parents where they recounted their harsh childhoods and turbulent immigration story. My parents grew up in Renhe, Guangzhou, which back then was a small village in rural China. They lived under the rule of a nation where opportunities were very limited; they worked in crop fields since they were 8 years-old and didn’t finish high school because they couldn’t afford to.

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

After many years of grueling physical labor, my parents knew they had to leave their town. With no knowledge of the culture and language, my parents saved money and emigrated to Peru with few belongings and the desire to have a brighter future.

(It was quite a long trip! Also, more thanks to Google Maps.)

Upon their arrival in the mid-80s, the economic and political situation in Peru weren’t favorable. The country was going through hyperinflation and the Peruvian Maoist terrorist group, the Shining Path, was taking control of a great part of the country. The period was characterized by countless situations of human rights violations and bomb attacks. The images are still etched in my mind as I recall my history classes. I can’t even imagine what my parents encountered 30 years ago. With no money to return, my parents stayed in Peru and learned to thrive together. They fought their way out to raise 3 children.

When I think of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, I see my parents as a perfect example of Hill’s teaching of passion, courage, and ambition. Hill reminds us that “the starting point of all achievement is desire” and that “every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” My parents found success by selflessly placing the interests of their children completely above their own. They took jobs that they did not necessarily enjoy, but with the idea of providing their children what they couldn’t have — an opportunity to study.

I don’t think I would appreciate education as much as I do if I hadn’t been exposed to these stories. I wouldn’t even be at USC.

As part of Yang Camp, I want to share these insights with those who live unaware of these situations and encourage them to find their passion in life. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” Ghandi once said. In a previous blog, Vivy Chao (Yang Camp Founder) mentioned that the 4.0 Schools and the Institute of Design at Stanford both teach “empathy” as a step to understanding the needs of customers and use that to develop a better and more efficient curriculum for Yang Camp.

I too desire to open schools in rural China and Peru, so that today’s children who are in my parents’ shoes years back can grow up and go to schools like USC.

My parents have inspired me to use their life story as a guide to push my boundaries, to accomplish anything I set my mind to, and to believe in my motivations. Through their stories of sacrifice and perseverance, I have lived by the mantra to see obstacles not as a discouragement, but as a reminder of how important the fight is.