Yao Zhang has a benefactor to thank for helping him gain a college education, but he will never know the person’s identity.
Born in Myanmar to a Chinese family, Zhang was not recognized as a Burmese citizen, which limited his educational opportunities. He traveled to Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s largest cities, to go to school.
He eventually joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission to Australia. While there, his mission president encouraged him to apply for admission at Brigham Young University-Hawaii following his mission. Zhang did, and doors of opportunity opened for him to get his education.
Zhang graduated in April with a degree in finance. But his education would not have been possible without someone’s generous donation to LDS Philanthropies, an organization that receives funds for LDS Church-sponsored philanthropic activities with the goal of blessing and changing lives.
“I really, really appreciate the donor’s contributions that make it possible for all the people who are willing to come and study here,” Zhang said in The Presidents’ Report, a BYU-Hawaii publication. “They (the donors) are saving thousands of lives. They are helping a lot of people.”
Zhang’s education was made possible by a financial aid program called “I-WORK,” which stands for International Work Opportunity, Returnability and “Kuleana,” the Hawaiian word for responsibility.
I-WORK, which encourages self-reliance and industry, is designed to assist students from the Pacific Rim in obtaining a quality education at BYU-Hawaii. Preference is given to returned missionaries so they can return home to their countries debt-free and become a pillar in their families and communities.
While I-WORK covers tuition, fees, housing and other expenses, students agree to do their part by working a part-time job, keeping grades up and returning home when they graduate. Zhang supervised other student workers in the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Prime Dining Restaurant.
“It blesses lives across the world,” said Michael A. Johanson, BYU-Hawaii director of communications.
But the I-WORK program is just one small fish in a large pond of efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to facilitate voluntary contributions — beyond tithing and fast offerings — to the LDS Church and its affiliated charities.
Charity and blessing lives
LDS Philanthropies, founded under the name LDS Foundation in 1971, and its sister company, Deseret Trust Co., established in 1972, work together to assist Latter-day Saint donors with contributions to church educational institutions, LDS charities and humanitarian aid, the Perpetual Education Fund and special church projects. The two report directly to the LDS Church’s Presiding Bishopric.
"Some choose to give, through the assistance of LDS Philanthropies, to bless the students and programs of Brigham Young University in Provo, Idaho and in Hawaii or to humanitarian services. Others choose to give to the general missionary fund, church history, the Perpetual Education Fund or other important church-sponsored programs and institutions," said McClain Bybee, managing director of LDS Philanthropies.
"All are important," he said. "All have a specific role in building the kingdom and blessing Heavenly Father's children. As a church department, our responsibility is to help the Saints know what opportunities they have to assist the church, then help them do what they would like within the priorities established by the presiding leaders of the church."
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