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Mariatu Kargbo, 34, a singer and philanthropist from Sierra Leone, has build bridges between China and Africa in culture, art and friendship over the past 16 years.
When she came to China for the first time in 2004, Kargbo was a high-school student chosen by the city of Weifang, Shandong Province, to perform at a kite festival. The city is well-known for its unique and elegant handmade kites.
“I was so grateful for that chance because it has changed my life totally to a much better and luckier direction,” Kargbo said. “I always said that it’s fate that brought China and me together.”
From Weifang, she took a train to Shenzhen to meet friends. But during the trip she became seriously ill. A middle-aged woman from Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, persuaded her to get off the train and took her to a hospital.
“As a foreigner, I was alone and couldn’t speak any Chinese,” Kargbo recalled. “She signed for my surgery and paid all the fees for me. She took all the responsibility for me without knowing who I was or whether I could pay her back. I was so touched.”
Since then, Kargbo has viewed China as a place of blessing and she wanted to pursue her dream in the country.
Returning to China in 2006, she found a job as a fashion designer at a company in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. But it was in 2007 that she became a national star when she sang in a TV talent show on China Central Television.
She had not expected to become a singer and began performing modestly here and there.
“I decided to spend my life in China because it has given me opportunities to make a life through hard work. I love this country from my heart. Everything I do is because of love.”
On May 12, 2008, Kargbo was performing in Sichuan Province when the Wenchuan earthquake occurred. She went to Wenchuan immediately and volunteered to deliver medical goods.
“The second day, May 13, was my birthday,” Kargbo said. “It was meaningful to spend it helping the needy.”
Kargbo is often invited to perform during China-Africa cultural events. She has made many short videos in a series called Small Small Chinese to teach foreigners how to speak Mandarin.
“I hope people will know that China is a peaceful place where people can realize their dreams no matter what color they are,” she said. “You need to know Chinese culture, which is important for understanding the society and people here. Then you will get the chance to establish yourself like me — from nothing to something, from a girl selling water on the street to an artist who can make a contribution to this world.”