A Vietnamese-American has financially assisted the adoptive father of 12 orphans in his home country for years as a way to give back to his native country.
Le Minh Trien, 53, the owner of a thriving lawn mowing business in the U.S., was deeply moved when he first learnt of a fairy tale taking place on Cam (Forbidden) Mountain in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang.
The protagonists of the tale, Nguyen Tan Bong and his ailing septuagenarian mother, have provided for and taken care of 11 orphaned and disadvantaged children, including a preschooler with hearing and speech impairments, for over a decade now.
Bong, 51 years old, has rejected marriage proposals from women out of admiration for his good deeds and devotion to single-handedly caring for his children.
Trien came across an article published in 2008 about Bong and his adoptive mother, Vo Thi Ba, who live atop the desolate Mo Coi Mount in the Cam Mountain complex with nine boys and two girls ranging from one to five years old.
Their home-sweet-home recently welcomed its latest addition, with the total number of children now at12.
Vietnamese-American philanthropist Le Minh Trien. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Back in the early 1970s, Trien and his family moved from Hue City in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue to Tra Vinh Province in the Mekong Delta, where his father was stationed for military service with the erstwhile South Vietnam Army.
One day in 1974, a soldier broke the news that his father was killed in battle.
His mother, pregnant with her sixth child, took Trien, then 10, to the battlefield to retrieve his father’s body.
The Viet Minh revolutionary soldiers were very kind and helpful, calling themselves friends rather than foes.
The death of Trien’s father plunged his family into financial distress, forcing the boy to drop out of a school and pursue menial jobs to help his family eke out a living.
When Trien turned 15, his mother sent him on a sea border-crossing that landed him on a treacherous journey to a refugee camp in Malaysia.
The desperate, forlorn teenager focused on survival in the unforgiving conditions of the refugee camp, working without pay for a couple who ran a bread bakery in the camp.
His hard work and dexterity paid off, and the couple rewarded Trien with the bakery, worth four taels of gold back then (a tael is now worth approximately US$1,585, for free when they settled down in a third country.
The bakery properly fed the youngster and fellow refugees, allowing the young ‘entrepreneur’ the opportunity to add two more shops to his current patisserie.
Trien then handed over his shops to another refugee when he was sent to the Philippines, where he learned English before settling down in the U.S in 1982.
He stayed with a fellow Vietnamese in a house in San Diego, California, working as a scrap collector.
One day, while collecting empty cans outside a house, an American man yelled a stream of invective at him, ordering him to stay away from his gateway.
“Trien, you cannot be like this,” he told himself.
The young man worked his way through high school with various jobs, including dishwashing, working as a janitor, and washing cars.
He got married at 25 before opening his own shop selling souvenirs, ornamental creatures, and cars.
Trien then met Ted Mountain, an American businessman who later adopted him as his son out of his admiration for the young man’s sincerity and diligence.
Heeding his foster father’s advice, Trien launched a lawn mowing company which has since become a household name amongst San Diego residents.
The stable job has earned him a good living and the financial stability to return to Vietnam to see his mother and siblings in 1990 and do charity work in several localities across his home country.
Vo Thi Ba, Bong's adoptive mother, who is now in her late 70s, is seen taking care of one of the adoptive children. Courtesy of Vo Dac Danh.
On a return visit to Vietnam in 2008, Trien made his way to Cam Mountain, where Bong and his 75-year-old mother were raising the 12 children.
He gave the family money to buy food and other necessities for the kids, a daily struggle for Bong, who earns a modest living growing bamboo on small plots and sells the shoots for a meager living.
Deeply concerned about the kids’ future, particularly schooling, Trien asked his adoptive father for help.
His father told him to write newspaper articles, launch an association and raise funds from native Vietnamese and the Vietnamese-American community.
Trien’s efforts were met with initial suspicion of his motive, but his financial transparency and philanthropy have finally won the trust of the community.
In 2009, his association for helping physically challenged and orphaned Vietnamese children raised $35,000, and his adoptive dad matched that sum with an additional $35,000.
The funding has helped send Bong’s 11 children to school (the youngest is still too young for school), and relieved much of his financial difficulty in providing for such a large family.
Though his adoptive father and biological mother have passed away, Trien still travels between the U.S. and his home country to help create real-life fairy tales for needy people in several locales, including Hanoi, the central provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue, My Tho City in southern Tien Giang Province, and his hometown, Tra Vinh.
In April 2017, before coming back to the U.S., Trien took his wife and children to Cam Mountain to visit Bong’s 12 adoptive children.
The family can now afford a small house at the foot of the mountain so the children can get to school more easily.
On their way back from school one day, the kids screamed excitedly at the unexpected sight of Trien, who they lovingly call “Dad.”