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Devoted Vietnamese man with developmental disabilities overcomes challenges to nurture 3 sons

Devoted Vietnamese man with developmental disabilities overcomes challenges to nurture 3 sons

Wednesday, July 05, 2023, 16:23 GMT+7
Devoted Vietnamese man with developmental disabilities overcomes challenges to nurture 3 sons
Ngo Quang Dang has his three sons on the makeshift cart he uses to push them on his way to sell lottery tickets every day through many streets in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Editor’s note: Yen Trinh, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper contributor, recently followed a family of four members on their daily livelihood journey. In this piece, Trinh narrates this arduous, yet touching journey.

On a rainy afternoon, a father, together with his three young sons, returned home drenched and shivering, wearing sorrowful expressions due to a stack of unsold lottery tickets. 

The prematurely-aged father hunched down in the kitchen to attend to the children’s meals, while the boys excitedly pulled out their books, engaging in their reading cheerfully.

Residents of Street 36 in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City have grown accustomed to witnessing Ngo Quang Dang, 57, pushing a cart so he can bring his three sons along while selling lottery tickets. 

All three children have developmental disabilities. Since it is summer the eldest does not have to go to school. Dang has no choice but to bring them along as they cannot be left unattended at home.

150 lottery tickets a day

At 6:00 am, Vinh, 10, Minh, 7, and Quang, 5, emerged from a narrow alley, boarded a makeshift cart approximately one meter in length, equipped with a roof thoughtfully added by their father, Dang. Wearing his worn-out hat, Dang commenced their customary journey.

As he made his way through Kha Van Can Street and Street 37, navigating the bustling Binh Thai Intersection before turning onto Do Xuan Hop Street, he approached pedestrians, offering them lottery tickets as he walked. 

Meanwhile, the three children sat on the cart, observing the traffic and enjoying playful interactions with one another.

By nearly 11:00 am, having sold out their lottery tickets, he pushed his sons back home. 

The combined weight of the three children is close to 70 kilograms, causing the back of his thin shirt to become drenched in sweat. 

Upon reaching home, the boys playfully unraveled themselves while Dang proceeded to reheat the lunch provided by a generous restaurant owner.

Gathered around for the modest meal, Vinh and Quang sat together, breaking off pieces of bread. 

“Eat up, kiddo, stop running around,” Dang uttered tenderly as he fed a slice of bread to Minh. 

At first glance, no one could discern that all of the father and sons were living with developmental disabilities, relying on one another in their daily lives.

Quang, the youngest child, is unable to speak fluently and sometimes only hums for hours.

Following the meal, the father settled down to take a moment’s respite, reflecting on his life’s circumstances. 

When his wife abandoned their home, he felt even more bewildered than before. 

His slower-paced mind now carries the responsibility of caring for the three children alone. 

“Every day, I wake up at 3:00 am,” Dang said. 

“During the school year, I typically prepare to get ready and escort Bi A [Vinh’s nickname] to school by 6:00 am. 

“Afterward, I push the cart to bring my two younger children along as we sell lottery tickets.”

During the summertime, the father and his sons face challenges brought by heavy rain. 

Recounting their difficulties, he shared that all three children fell ill with fevers and discomfort, causing him to take a few days off work last week. 

“While at home, I had to keep a vigilant eye on them, as they would often wander and play on the streets every time I was busy doing something else,” Dang recounted. 

He recalled a time when his household situation was not as dire, even though they faced financial distress, as he had the support of his wife to take care of both the household and external matters. 

“In the past, I used to sell 200 tickets a day, but now it’s more challenging with adverse weather conditions, so I can only manage to vend 150 tickets, which is scarcely enough to provide food for my children,” Dang said.

Later, he lit incense on the altar, where a photo of Yen Nhi, his eldest daughter, was placed, expressing his sorrow, “She passed away at the age of 15, just last year, after battling a brain illness.”

Ngo Quang Dang and his three sons have a meal provided by a kind-hearted person. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Ngo Quang Dang and his three sons have a meal provided by a kind-hearted person in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Only one child goes to school

Inside the house belonging to a nephew of Dang, the walls display a somber shade of brown, with one of them adorned with two paintings by Vinh -- one depicting a vibrant green countryside and the other portraying a woman with the inscription 'The Legend of the Star Apple Tree.'

On the opposite wall, certificates of merit hang, recognizing the child’s accomplishments in the first and second grades. 

In a corner near the stairs, a wheelchair remains stored, a poignant reminder of his daughter for whom it was intended but tragically never used. 

Apart from these belongings, there is little else of significance.

Speaking about Vinh’s academic pursuits, Dang said, “Bi A has a great passion for studying. He’s more reserved and introverted, only opening up to those close to him.” 

When asked about his favorite subject, Vinh eagerly mentioned mathematics, proudly sharing his neatly-solved problems in vibrant purple ink from his previous school year’s notebooks. As the summer comes to an end, he will soon enter fourth grade.

Vinh’s learning progress is slower compared to other children, but he consistently puts in effort and tries his best, according to Vu Viet Kim Ngan, Vinh’s third-grade homeroom teacher.

“During break time, Vinh frequently dedicates himself to completing his homework,” said Ngan. 

“Being aware of his situation, we often take the time to explain lessons in greater detail, repeat them multiple times, and review them the following day to ensure that he retains the knowledge for an extended period."

Ngan revealed that Vinh’s expenses for the 2022-23 school year was covered by his school’s study promotion fund and the contributions made by the parents’ association.

Vinh also received generous donations from classmates to support his participation in school outings.

“We also proposed that the local People’s Committee find a way to support Vinh,” Ngan added. 

“Parents, teachers, and the community will make efforts to help and create favorable conditions for the child’s education.”

Given the challenging family circumstances, Minh, who is already seven years old -- the age when most children in Vietnam finished their first-grade school year -- has yet to start attending school. 

The child, full of energy, often engages in running around and playing with toy blocks with the youngest of the family, Quang.

Thao, a 25-year-old resident living near Dang’s house, revealed that she takes the initiative to teach Minh spelling and basic arithmetic in her spare time. 

Thao shared that Minh occasionally comes over to her house, seeking her guidance, and she often buys milk for him.

Observing his children as they hold their books, Dang reminisced about the time when his wife dedicated herself to their studies at home and nurturing their well-being.

He mentioned his desire to leave his children at home to shield them from the rain and sun, but unfortunately, there was no one available to care for them in his absence.

“As I brought my children along when selling lottery tickets, some people found it hard to believe that I'm their father, mistaking me for someone much older,” Dang said. 

“Despite being younger than 60 years old, my appearance seems closer to that of a 70-year-old.”

Vinh (R), Minh (C), and Quang play toy blocks in their house. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Vinh (R), Minh (C), and Quang play toy blocks in their house in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre

All for the children

Years of working as a construction-site assistant followed by selling lottery tickets in all weather conditions has taken a toll on Dang’s health. 

His feet are calloused and swollen, with lumps larger than the buttons on his shirt.

“Back then, I trod through various places, oblivious to the thorns beneath my feet,” Dang recalled. 

“As time passed, the calluses grew so thick that even hospital treatment couldn't heal the condition.”

Every day, he endures the physical discomfort of embarking on a nearly 20-kilometer journey, fully aware that without making that effort, he would have no means to provide for his children.

Moved by the father and sons’ difficult circumstances, kind-hearted people occasionally offer them a few kilograms of rice, instant noodles, and loaves of bread. Concerned neighbors frequently inquire about their well-being as an expression of care.

The local authorities also provide assistance in the form of gifts.

During those times, Dang said he feels a reduced sense of sadness. 

“In the previous school year, the school provided support for Bi A, taking care of boarding expenses and other necessities,” he said. 

“The teachers showed great kindness. 

“At the beginning of the school year, they even visited and encouraged me to make an effort to send my children to school as they felt bad that Minh had not yet had the opportunity to attend school.

“Of course, I want all of my children to receive an education, but I worry that I won’t be able to afford that.”

Taking care of three children is a difficult task for a father who is mentally challenged. 

Despite that, Dang’s deep affection for his children is evident, touching the hearts of those around him.

Noticing the redness in Minh’s eyes, he gestured and called out, 'Bi E' (Minh’s nickname), beckoning him to come closer so he could administer eye drops. 

The boy rested his head on his father’s lap as he gently encouraged him to open his eyes for the medicine. 

Aware of Quang’s high body temperature, he reminded the children to take a nap and rest.

As the children drifted into slumber, the house was enveloped in silence. 

Dang sat near the doorway, his voice filled with emotion as he uttered, “I wish for good health so I can continue caring for my rapidly-growing children.” 

“Some people suggest sending them to an orphanage, but I don’t want that. 

“Parents are the ones who can provide the best care for their children.

“I also yearn for my wife’s return, as the children deeply miss their mother.”

With utmost sincerity, the father spoke these words, gazing affectionately at his sons. 

The three children, with their angelic faces and smiles that seemed to be lost in a beautiful dream, filled his heart with love.

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Bao Anh - Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre News

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