Fulfilling more dreams through a special gift

Alberto de Cárdenas give us a special gift for Christmas time

PorAlberto de Cárdenas

Noviembre 19, 2020

The holidays are around the corner and I am sure many of you are thinking about gift ideas for your loved ones. Gift giving around Christmas time is in most countries a huge commercial boost for companies and organizations, and, considering the year we are having, probably most hugely need it. 

But let me tell you a story. Let me tell you how, around Xmas, almost 20 years ago, I received the most valuable gift I could have ever gotten from someone I barely knew. Something that changed my life and that made me re-evaluate my goals in life (even though back then I didn’t know it yet).  

First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. Since I was a growing up, I always knew that I wanted to get an MBA and given that I was an ambitious kid, I knew it could only be from one of the best school in the world: Tuck (Dartmouth), my dream school, the place I wanted to be part of. My ambition made me graduate among the top of the class from the top college in Peru, get the job I wanted right away (I only applied to two), and become successful quickly. Success for me then was how soon I was going to become CEO, number of employees, stock options, end-of-year bonus, among other “benefits”.

In 2001, I applied to Tuck and got in. I was very excited about it. I was going to be able to fulfill my dream… however, it was right after September 11 when it was difficult for foreigners like me to get scholarships or loans to pay for it. Tuck helped but it was not enough.  I thought that would be the end of this dream for me but as fate would have it I received a very generous gift from someone in Peru that I barely knew.  I call this person my angel.  He somehow became aware of my situation and offered to pay for my MBA on one condition – he said “I want you to do something for someone that needs it. What you do, when you do it, how you do it, who you do it with, or who you impact… doesn’t matter” He even said “I am never going to ask you if you did it or not. It’s up to you and your conscious”. 

I finished Tuck and focused on “making it” – I put off the whole “doing something to help someone thing” for a different phase of my life and continued along the path of ambition – I moved to NYC, worked as a management consultant living the bachelor life in the city that never sleeps, worked hard, partied harder during the weekend, saved some money, etc.  In the back of my mind I knew I’d end up back in Peru but in March of 2013 my plans were abruptly sped up when I received a call from my father.  He said I have been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and the doctors have given me 3 months to live. 

Within a week, I had quit my job and moved back to be with him.  It is 7 years later, my dad is still with us and I’m still in Peru.  My father’s illness forced me to confront not only the root of my ambitions but being back in Peru reminded me that I still had a commitment to fulfill, a promise to keep, an informal pledge to complete. I needed to give back. I need to pay it forward.

In my life I had the opportunity, through a good education, to match my ambition. But in Peru that is not always the case. 

Good education is a privilege that most kids do not have access to. I wanted to give the intelligent and ambitious children in my country, a chance to excel for the benefit of their families, themselves, and our country.  

And that’s how, with friends, I started Peru Champs. At this project, we give underprivileged talented kids the opportunity to receive a world-class education and fulfill their dreams, whatever they are. We provide scholarships to study at the schools of our partner, Innova Schools, and a leadership program that enhances their soft skills.

We currently have more than 2000 kids in 17 different cities along the Coast, Highlands and Rainforest in Peru. Talented children that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to receive quality education and improve their chances of succeeding in life. This is why we say we are transforming lives. Also, for the first time, we have 4 champs going to study abroad. One to Russia, another one to UWC in Canada, another one to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and the last one to Stanford University (the latter was also accepted to Duke, Dartmouth, NYU, Oxford, Emory, Georgetown, Swarthmore, among 12 total). 

What I didn’t realize when I started the journey to give back was how much I would gain from the act of giving back.  In my ambitious years I measured my success in dollars, and power. Now I measure my life in the number of children and families Peru Champs helps in a given year, the success stories that we generate thanks to the Program, the number of “thank you”, hugs and smiles I get from the kids and parents. I live my live now based on those success metrics. They are hard to quantify sometimes but are extremely rewarding inside.

I believe I have the best job in the world and probably I am one of the wealthiest guys in my country. But that wealth doesn’t come in the shape of a brand new car, or credit cards, or properties, or a “fat wallet”. It comes from giving back, from paying it forward. It comes from empowering others. It comes from transforming lives of those who otherwise would not have the opportunity to do so.

I thank God for sending me an “angel” that changed my life. The gift I got: the opportunity to receive a world-class education and fulfill my dreams, is something that I will treasure forever. I hope my “angel” is somehow watching what his actions originated and that he is proud of what we have achieved so far. If you are thinking of what to gift someone you love for the holidays, always remember that you can transform lives of those who need it and that that gift will last forever and impact many others. Transform a life. Empower a live through education.

As a friend of mine would say, in this journey, I can summarize what I have learned in the following thoughts:

A privileged upbringing often leads itself to a life in which we find ourselves in positions of power. Places from which we have the opportunity to make lasting, tangible impact. An opportunity provided to us by the families we were raised in, and the circumstances we were lucky enough to be born into. 

An incredibly large number of people across the world cannot claim to have access to even the most basic of these privileges – things we often take for granted. Gratitude is a start. As is empathy. But these aren't enough. 

Today, tomorrow or sometime in the future- we all have an obligation to empower those around us. Give back to the environment that gave us so much. 

For if we don't, who else will?

*Note: Peru Champs Association is a 501.(c)3 registered organization and can provide tax certificates to donors in the US that make a donation to our US Chase Bank account.

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