In a remote coffee-growing village in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, an unmarried man has been raising 71 orphaned children out of love and compassion for nearly a decade, despite his own financial hardship and illness.
For the past nine years, 56-year-old Dinh Minh Nhat, a resident of Ia H’Lop Commune in Chu Se District, Gia Lai Province, has been taking in orphaned or abandoned children and raising them as his own.
The first child
Sitting on the porch of his small house in Ia H’Lop amidst shrieks of laughter coming from his playful ‘children’ in the front yard, Nhat said he is often asked how he could have managed to provide for 71 children while having no stable job on his part.
“To be frank, I really don’t know how to respond to such questions,” Nhat admitted.
“I believe that to offer these poor children a chance at living when their lives were on the line is a miracle in itself.
“Abandoned children possess exceptional survival instincts.”
It has been nine long years, but Nhat said the deadly images of the rescue of his first ‘child’ still haunted him till this day.
Nhat was passing by the neighboring village of Ja Rai in Chu Prong District to buy construction materials for his own home in 2008 when he encountered a disturbing sight in the nearby woods.
A group of villagers were about to shove a newborn girl back into the womb of his dead mother, believing that the poor child was the cause of her mother’s death according to local taboos.
“I was in utter shock, thinking to myself how they could end the life of an innocent child just because of a deeply rooted superstitious belief,” Nhat recalled.
“I jumped right into the crowd, snatched the baby girl and ran away.
“But I couldn’t outrun the villagers.”
Nhat remembered explaining to the angered crowd that it was not because of the girl that her mother had died, and that no higher deity would hold them accountable for letting a child live.
“I will raise her,” Nhat recalled having said to the villagers.
“I live just four hours by foot away from here. You can have my word that I will bring her back to visit her mother’s and ancestors’ grave every year.”
Nhat’s heartfelt words convinced the villagers, and so the man who had never fathered before took home his first 'daughter,' two-day-old Kpuih H’Lui.
For the next few months, Nhat would go from door to door around his village asking female villagers to breastfeed his daughter, and when his pleas were no longer answered the man would sell rice from his house to buy cow milk for the girl.
It was through the hard-earned milk that H’Lui has grown up to be a healthy nine-year-old girl who is attending third grade at a local elementary school.
A shared home
Since adopting his first daughter, Nhat has taken in 70 other children, each of whom has their own painful story of being orphaned or abandoned by their parents.
One of Nhat’s children suffers from a medical condition that leaves him with no functional anus, and Nhat would have to use his fingers to regularly take out the boy’s excrement.
Another child has a congenial heart disease that costs Nhat large sums of money to afford his monthly treatments at the hospital.
To provide for all 71 of his children, who eat as much as 600 kilograms of rice every month, Nhat works labor jobs at local coffee farms or does household chores for other villagers.
While selflessly caring for his big family, Nhat himself has been suffering from a severe kidney disease that renders him out of breath each time Nhat performs a physically demanding task, according to Le Sy Quy, chairman of the People’s Committee of Ia H’Lop.
“Some people dream of leading wealthy lives, while Nhat’s only dream is for his children to be fed and grow up healthily,” Quy said.