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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 9, 2010

Helping others to become self-reliant

By Joyce Tan

In the summer of 2005, when my husband and I were touring part of China, friends brought us to a restaurant for lunch one day.

While waiting to cross a busy intersection to the restaurant, I noticed a beggar sitting on the ground, and walked up to give some money. I was surprised to see that the beggar was a young woman with a small child sleeping across her lap. I then gave her extra money and told her to be sure the child attended school. She nodded, profusely thanking me.

While eating lunch, my heart was troubled. Why would a young mother be begging in the streets? Where's her family? I realized that I had forgotten to give her an egg in my pocket that I had saved from breakfast to give away. I returned to find her still on the ground and gave her the egg.

As I walked away, I turned back to see what she did with it. She had propped her sleeping child up, and was peeling the egg for the child to eat. "That must be a real mother," I thought as it is a mother's instinct to care for her child before herself. I bought them more food.

Meimei (I changed her name here for the sake of privacy) was abandoned by her child's father as he was already married but wanted a son. The mother and daughter had survived for two years on the streets.

When I suggested that recycling bottles and cans could earn them a reasonable living, she pointed to her leg. A polio fever had swept her village when she was about 11 years old, leaving her crippled.

When I asked her whether she wanted to continue begging or to find work, she immediately replied that she wanted to learn how to sew and make a living from that.

My husband went to our hotel and searched on the Internet to find out how the Chinese government assisted the physically challenged. We learned that all government employees have a small monthly deduction that goes to a national effort to house and train its physically challenged citizens. Every city and town has an outreach entity.

We then canceled touring engagements to help Meimei on her road to self-reliance.

We found out that Meimei needed to return to her village and apply for vocational training. The night before returning there, Meimei brought us to her slum and we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant. When we were drinking some soup, I asked 3-year-old Xiaomei if she wanted more. She showed me her half emptied bowl to explain that she hadn't finished eating yet, and quietly kept on eating. I was amazed how much food that little body could contain! After dinner, we bought them some new clothes and made arrangements to take a bus coach to her home village five hours away.

The next morning, it was raining. We saw Meimei drenched and limping slowly. She was holding her daughter and dragging her belongings in a large bag.

As we left the filthy slum, a set of scripture came into my mind (Matthew 25:35-40) where Jesus said:

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee and hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

When we reached Meimei's hometown, we contacted officials, talked with the mayor of her village and found a rental home for Meimei, miraculously, all in one day. We paid a year's rent while handicap association officers promised to train her to be a seamstress. Upon our departure, Meimei told us to come back in a couple of years to see how her life had changed the future certainly looked brighter.

Three years have passed since then.

Meimei has finished her vocational training and is embroidering beautiful flowers. We have continued to support her financially. For information about how you can make a donation to help Meimei and other individuals and causes, visit www.ctr-products.com. We will receive a small commission when you order Amazon products through our Web site and 50 percent of our profit will go to charitable causes.