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MK Howard, A Aharitable Christian
Foreigners in China - Foreigners in China
MK Howard (right) shows her "antique," a collection of silver knives and forks made in the US in the 1940s to a Chinese client in a teahouse in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

CHENGDU: Sitting in an open-air teahouse in the western suburbs of Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, MK (Mary Kathleen) Howard looked calm while talking about her experiences in the city.

A graduate of American River College with a major in Environmental Resource Management, Howard is from Hawaii, the United States. She has been in Chengdu since September 2004, working mainly as a language consultant and business concept designer.

"I originally planned to stay in Chengdu for only one year, but it is the nice people of the city who have enticed me to stay longer," she said.

Howard, 60, was very close with her husband Mike Kubash who died of heart failure in the summer of 2004. Everything in her little house reminded her of Mike and their good times together, so she decided to get away from the constant reminders that he was no longer involved in her daily life.

"An advertisement in our monthly church magazine looking for English teachers for China caught my attention, and five weeks after Mike died, I was in Chengdu,," said Howard, a devoted Christian.

Since then, Howard has worked in both a university and a private foreign language school in Chengdu to help teach English as a second language. It is the first time that she has ever lived in a city in her entire life.

"I had lived for 11 years in a picturesque valley in a community of roughly 300 people in the United States before I moved to a large town of 1,380 people. The 'biggest city' I had lived in the United States was a town with nearly 5,000 people," she said.

Although she dislikes cities and prefers to live in the countryside, Howard likes Chengdu, a city with more than 11 million people, because of its friendly and helpful people.

"Whenever I lose my way and ask for directions, locals try their best to help me, although many cannot speak English. In addition, I feel very safe in the city. I don't feel scared even when I walk in the streets late at night," she said.

She is most impressed with a middle-aged Chengdu man who is ready to help others even though he is in poor health and financial straits. When the parents of a 9-year-old boy died in a car accident, the man found some 20 people to raise funds and help him to continue his school education.

"A Christian woman, I am moved by the man and want to be able to help the wonderful people of Chengdu, those needy people in particular," Howard said.

She told the story of a middle-aged Chengdu woman whose only child is in university. Working seven days a week to pay for his education, she walks home from work so exhausted she can hardly make it, but the walk saves a bus fare. Additionally, she must shop for food every day to take home and then she must cook the food every day, because they have no refrigerator. She washes their clothes by hand in cold water, which, in winter, makes her hands bleed.

"There is no washing machines, no microwave oven, no DVD player for their old television, none of the lovely luxuries we take for granted," Howard said.

The woman's experience prompted Howard to come up with some business concepts to help people like that woman and many others in unfortunate circumstances. .

Since last year, Howard has formulated a list of businesses. Topping the list is a little shop that sells ice, ice chests, and other ice-related products, located near universities, restaurants and clinics.

"A small ice chest is sold for only 99 US cents, and none of the ice chests use electricity. But they can keep food fresh and would appeal to trendy young people and to some of their families to ease the daily shop/cook food burden." Howard said.

Since last year, she has been looking for investors who can pay a sum of about 90,000 yuan (US$11,250) to rent a place, renovate it and buy equipment such as the ice-making machine and inventory, so that the shop can open.

"After investing in the shop, the investor gives the shop to a person who just needs a helping hand in order to have a better chance in life," Howard said.

The business is initially set up for operation, and the disadvantaged new owner trained, by Howard, who then steps away and thereafter acts only a consultant.

"The business owner will return a sizeable portion of the monthly business income to the investor each month so that he can recoup the investment and realize a comfortable profit for the help in providing operating capital." Howard said.

Taking pictures is one of Howard's hobbies in Chengdu where she likes walking in the streets to take photos showing Chengdu as a harmonious combination of the old and new.

Once she saw an old man with traditional black clothes and shoes carrying two baskets with one shoulder pole. "He reminded me of a painting fifty or sixty years ago," Howard said.

After Howard sought his permission to take his pictures, the man took Howard by surprise. "He took out a cell phone and talked with somebody. I laughed so loudly that tears came down my face," she said.

In an investor-targeted closing statement, Howard declared "I am confident that there are so many compassionate people out there in Chengdu who really have the heart to help others less fortunate, but are very busy or have not discovered the most effective way to help. It is my sincerest hope that some of those in the best position to help will be intrigued by this unusual concept and will want to combine forces to turn the dreams of disadvantaged Chengdu citizens into reality."