Businessman donates $4.3 million asset to 88 children

By Long Nguyen, Minh Nhat   November 15, 2019 | 10:27 pm PT
Ten years ago, a very poor young woman gave away her child to an aunt. The aunt could not afford a child either.

Moved by the woman and the child’s plight, Bui Cong Hiep and his wife stepped in to take care of it. Ten years on, Hiep has, believe it or not, 90 children, two of whom are his biological offspring.

But Hiep is not just a rich businessman donating money for their upkeep in an orphanage or similar institution for abandoned children. He personally takes care of them, getting up at 4.30 a.m. everyday to attend to their needs.

Hiep, 62, takes 3 hours to prepare lunch and another 3 hours to make dinner. "I want to cook for my kids because I know the feeling when my Mom cooked for me, I want my kids to feel the same."

In between cooking the meals, he goes back and forth from his house to the school to pick up his "little angels". He has 88 of them – aged between 2-3 months and 7 years. They live in the Mai Am Thien Than (House of Angels) in HCMC's District 9.

Hiep and one of his babies. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

Hiep and one of his babies. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

People call him an angel, too, but Hiep has no such illusions. He is just an ordinary father trying to bring up his children, who happened to be abandoned by their biological parents for various reasons.

As a businessman, the 62-year-old man has always wanted to give a helping hand to society, but this desire did not get a specific direction till 2010 when a young female acquaintance got pregnant and could not afford to bring up her child.

"The young woman was too poor, so she gave the kid to her aunt. The aunt left for her hometown shortly after because she could not pay all the bills," Hiep said, recalling the situation in which he and his wife, Pham Hoang Lan, agreed to take care of the infant.

This one act led to another as several women unable to care for their babies asked Hiep for help.

He had found his calling. It was not easy to pursue it, however.

When Lan saw that he was going too far with accepting and taking care of abandoned children, his wife was upset. She cried and made a fuss. But Hiep could not be dissuaded. He left his house and moved to the house he had built on his land to take care of them.

After a while, she went there and was moved by the children calling her, "Mother." She stayed, too, and is now a joint parent to 88 children that she did not give birth to.

On the birth certificates of his 88 children, Hiep has always kept their mothers' names, because he wants them to know their birth mothers and vice versa. He wants to keep the door open for a mother to return to her children.

However, many of his sons and daughters end up not knowing their mothers, because they never show up, Hiep said, adding that he has received his angels in strange ways.

"One night in 2014, I heard a dog barking outside and decided to check it out because I thought some thieves could be around. In front of the gate, there was an infant wrapped in a blanket."

That’s how he met Bui Kim Tam, one of his children. Bui is his family name, and Kim Tam means "a pure heart" in Vietnamese.

Another time, Hiep met a pregnant woman begging for money at a park in Saigon and advised her to go to the House of Angels. Her son is now a member of Hiep's family.

All the abandoned children or orphans that he has adopted live in a 3-storied house, which is furnished with a playground, a swimming pool and bedrooms for kids at different age groups.

Hiep and his wife have also hired 10 people to help them take care of the children. But when it comes to cooking, Hiep never permits anyone to help.

Carrying the work forward

To ensure that his 90 children will always have a home, Hiep took another major step recently, transferring the 2,500 square meter land plot and the house, worth around VND100 billion ($ 4.3 million), from individual to collective ownership.

He said he hopes his children will use the house as a shared space that will always be ready to welcome everyone wanting to return to their childhood home.

Hiep feeds one of his children. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

Hiep feeds one of his children. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

Hiep’s wife Lan was shocked and upset again about his new decision. "I thought he was out of his mind, but then I was okay, as long as our biological children were okay with it."

Hiep was unable to check his emotions as he spoke about talking of his biological children about donating his property to all the children together.

They agreed immediately, saying his adopted children were their siblings, too.

"They told me to go ahead, because the children are their siblings. I was surprised and thrilled, knowing that my children are that altruistic and independent.

"Some people call this place an orphanage or a foster home, it is not. This is a house, and I want that it truly belongs to my children now and in the future, I want them to have a safety net to come back to whenever they want."

Hiep says there is another very important lesson he has learnt from the experience of nurturing 88 children. He realized that he had not been a good father to his own blood-related children.

"I was not a good father to my daughter and son because I used to be a man with a bad temper. I am learning to be better now. I thank all of my children for giving me the chance to improve myself."

Hiep was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He enlisted in the army and was demobilized in 1981. Struggling to earn a livelihood, he then worked as a guard in HCMC and tried to learn more about machines and machinery on his own. After a decade, he retired and opened a mechanical workshop, from which he earns up to VND100 million ($4,300) per month to run the House of Angels.

The father of 88 children had once promised his wife that he would build a house on their 2,500 square meter land plot to enjoy a retired life, by a car and drive her to Cambodia to visit his old battlefields.

He has broken that promise.

Hiep picks up his children. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

Hiep picks up his children. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Nhat.

"But we are happy with that. We now have a big family with our lovely children. I can't stop loving them," said Lan.

Hiep spends every evening reading books and learning English to know more about teaching and feeding children. "I've learned to cook for them and to educate them in this modern world. I don't expect my kids to act like grownups, I want them to enjoy their childhood."

Hiep said one of his business partners visiting the house wanted his children to be more disciplined and less noisy. He rejected the suggestion, which upset the partner and made his top working with Hiep’s workshop.

He continues to make plans for his children. A separate house for infants, more classes and more facilities are part of such plans, because he wants his kids to grow up in an ideal environment.

"There is a lot to do, but step by step, I will make the house better for all of them. I want them to become good citizens with warm hearts and happy lives," he added.

Hiep also owns a 4,000 square meter land plot in Binh Thanh District of HCMC, in which he plans to build another building for his children in the future.

He still thinks of himself as receiver and not a giver. "I received a lot from all of my children, especially my blood daughter and son," Hiep said as he waited for his children at their primary school.

Each of the children crossed their arms and bowed their heads while greeting him with a big smile.

Each time their 90 children call him Dad and his wife, Mummy, Hiep and Lan feel they are receiving a gift.

A priceless gift.

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