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A ‘leper’ becomes a billionaire

Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 16:39 GMT+7

A woman was abandoned by her husband and neighbors because of a disease she suffered from, which they mistakenly believed was leprosy. Suffering from unbearable pain, she cut all her fingers off. However, with extraordinary courage, she overcame her challenges and eventually saved enough money to build one of the most sizeable villas in her town.

This is the true story of a woman in northern Thai Binh Province. The story of her life was featured in a documentary film named ‘Chuyện tử tế’, which means A Kind Story, although the film was officially translated into English as Living As One Should.

She is Tran Thi Hang, who is now almost 70.

A fingerless woman cast 18,000 bricks to build her house

It is hard to imagine how one woman can survive and overcome such overwhelming misfortune.

Hang’s story began in 1972 when she was working for the department of the Ministry of Finance in Hoai Duc, Hanoi, and her shelter was bombed by US soldiers. She was not injured on impact, but her health was affected by the atmospheric pressure by the bombs. She was too weak to continue working in the office and had to return to her husband’s hometown in Bac Ninh.

Soon after, her husband abandoned her for another woman. She returned to her own hometown in Thai Binh to join her son Tu Anh, who had been sent to his grandmother after his birth.

At that time, her fingers began swelling, turning pale and causing her much pain. This was a consequence of the pressure caused by the US bombs years before.

Hang had no money, no identity papers, and no health insurance. Feeling helpless, she baked an iron knife and cut her swollen fingers off one by one.

Seeing the ulcers on her hands and her fingers gone, neighbors began spreading rumors that Hang was a leper. They abandoned Hang and her son, fearing that her “leprosy” was contagious.

Militia in her commune forcefully escorted her to a local lepsory clinic, where doctors diagnosed her as suffering from the inflammation and obstruction of peripheral arteries of her hands, not lepsory. The inflammation had caused the cells in her fingers to die.

However, her diagnosis didn’t stop neighborhood rumors that she was a leper.

Hang had to leave the village and became a beggar. However, she returned secretly at night to give her son any coins or rice she’d managed to find. Her physical pain and above all her shame made her decide to commit suicide. She threw herself into the Thai Hac River but she was rescued by a fisherman. Understanding the woman’s situation, the fisherman gave her 1,000 dong, which was then worth 100kg of rice, and told her that living is more difficult than dying.

Thinking of her little son, she told herself he had to have a home before his mother died. Spurred by her love for her son, she came secretly to the village every night, and with her crippled and twisted hands, she made 18,000 bricks to build a house since she couldn’t afford to buy bricks.


Ms. Tran Thi Hang in her villa in Thai Binh (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

Desire to live

Through the labor of casting 18,000 bricks to build a house for her son, Hang began to value her life and stopped thinking of suicide.

She decided to take her son to Nam Dinh Province to escape from the rumors of her leprosy. She took her son to a local market to buy vegetables on credit, which she then resold.

After many days, she saved enough and stopped using her son to buy vegetables. Instead, she sent him to school.

After a period in Nam Dinh, her savings were enough to return to Thai Binh and buy a pond, which she planned to fill and build a house on top of.

Living in a hut set up by the pond, she began keeping fish and pigs.

After a time, Hang saved enough money to build a two-story house from the 18,000 bricks she had made in the early 1990s. At that time, her son was admitted into the Vietnam National Economics University.

Several years ago, Tu Anh opened an insect prevention company in Thai Binh.

From the savings of the mother and her son, they were able to build the biggest villa in the city, to the surprise of her neighbors.

Although they live in the villa, Hang and her son keep their old two-story house as a reminder of the challenges Hang surpassed. Although they live in the villa, Hang has continued to cultivate vegetables and raise pigs.

In recent years, she has put aside a large part of her fortune to help underprivileged people.

Hang quoted German philosopher Karl H. Marx to talk about her desire to help others: “Only animals turn away from human suffering and busy themselves looking after their own skin.”

Tuoi Tre


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