Cheaper by the Dozen: A Father and his Twelve Adopted Kids

Here is a modern fairy tale about a single 43- year old man who is bringing up 12 adopted children ages one and six years old on the Cam (Forbidden) Mountain (Thien Cam Son) in Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province. The man with the heart of gold is Mr. Nguyen Tan Bong, who resides in An Hao Commune in Tinh Bien District.

Mr. Nguyen Tan Bong and his adopted kids

Ten years ago, Mr. Bong returned to his hometown of Can Tho after serving in Cambodia. His family was among the city’s well-to-do families. Unfortunately, his mother was terribly sick and he decided to build a small house in Cam Mountain where his mother could enjoy fresh air and a peaceful life.

Mr. Bong became an adoptive father not long after when his mother brought home an abandoned baby. The family became bigger when some poor mothers who could not nourish their children came to his home and gave their children to him.

The family of 14 has so far lived on the income from 15 hectares of vegetables, fruit, and bulbs of different kinds, including kohlrabi, mangosteens, bananas and bamboo shoots. Mr. Bong is the only breadwinner in the house.

Every three days, Mr. Bong walks around 10km carrying vegetables and fruit on his back down the mountainside to a market. He uses all the money he earns from the selling of crops to buy foods, milk, and nappies his kids.

Not all of his adopted kids were physically and mentally fit when they were given to him. Mr. Bong recalled the recent death of Thanh, a child who suffered from hydrocephalus since he was born three years ago and led a vegetative existence ever since.

“I took care of Thanh, nourishing the hope in my heart that he would get better someday,” Mr. Bong said with tears started in his eyes. “Thanh, however, cried all day and all night, and when he couldn’t cry anymore, it was my turn to cry for him!”

Pointing at Sanh, a healthy five-year-old boy who was playing nearby, Mr. Bong said,” He suffered from respiratory tract infections even before he was born. Sanh’s mother gave him to me when he was just 20 days old. He was as small as a bottle at that time!”

“Sanh was a sickly baby and I had to take him to the children’s hospital so many times,” added Mr. Bong. “He couldn’t even suck and the doctors had to feed him by pumping milk into his stomach. What a pale baby he was! Luckily, Sanh’s filled out a lot recently!”

A nephew of Bong teaches his adopted kids when he works on the fields

Not merely a devoted father, Mr. Bong is also a teacher. The small kitchen in the house serves as a classroom. “Three of them should gone to first grade, but how can they walk over 20km a day to school and then go back home?” Mr. Bong said.

Those who do not understand his noble work see Mr. Bong as a crazy man who is squeezed out and getting nothing in return. Mr. Bong, however, said that he loves the children so much that witnessing them grow up each day is true happiness to him.

Although busy with his 10 hectares of land, Mr. Bong runs home twice a day to keep an eye on the kids. He bottle-feeds, baths, and reassures them with his caresses and manners.

When Giau, a four-month old baby, wetted his bed and cried, Mr. Bong came quickly to his bed to change his napkin. Looking at Mr. Bong tenderly holding the baby in his calloused and tanned hands, one  immediately understands the noble love that he gave to his adopted kids.

“I fell in love when I was 30, but it was just a fruitless love affair,” Mr. Bong replied when being asked if he had ever thought about a marriage life. “Now I have more than 20 children. I don’t think many women are ready to marry me. Above all, what happens if I have my own family and there is discrimination between our natural children and the adopted ones? Children are innocent and I don’t want to hurt them.”

By Hoang Hoa – Translated by Phuong Lan

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