Former priest provides salvation to 106 adoptees

By Phan Diep   February 19, 2020 | 11:30 pm PT
Dinh Minh Nhat, 57, dropped religion to spread hope, provide refuge to abandoned children in the Central Highlands.

Hearing the sound of the familiar motorbike, dozens of children rushed to welcome their ‘father’ Nhat.

"They gave me clothes, and I picked this for you," one child said while handing him a shirt. Stemming from numerous areas across Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands, the adopted children now reside at a house in Chu Se District.

"Nhat is raising 106 children, none of them illiterate," said Nguyen Van Duong, leader of Hlop Commune, where Nhat and his big family are based.

Nhat and 11-month-old Dinh Thien Duc, who was abandoned in a farm after being born. Duc was diagnosed with heart failure when he was 2 months old and Nhat had to sell his cows to afford two operations to save his adopted son. Photo vy VnExpress/Phan Diep.

Nhat and 11-month-old Dinh Thien Duc, abandoned at a farm after birth. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

The narrative commenced in 2005 when Nhat left Ho Chi Minh City for Hlop Commune to work as a priest, traversing forested areas to better learn local customs and engage with the community.

During one trip he witnessed a crying infant at an ethnic Gia Rai funeral lying next to his dead mother.

Knowing the child would be buried with his mother as a local custom, Nhat had to supply the village patriarch with a pig in exchange for saving the poor baby.

"I just wanted to save the child," Nhat said, adding the thought of raising the infant never crossed his mind at the time.

Back home, the inexperienced priest struggled to care for his adopted son, visiting many villagers asking for milk.

Rahlan H Un (left), 6 and Dinh Thi Thuy Tram, 1. Tram was adopted when she was 4 because he mother passed away and her grandparents could not afford bringing her up. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

Rahlan H' Un (L), 6, and Dinh Thi Thuy Tram, 1. Tram was adopted when she was 4 months old after her mother passed away, leaving her grandparents unable to afford bringing her up. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep

Fearing bad luck, most local women refused to share their milk, with only a small number adding some to a bowl for the crying infant.

"Some breastfed, but fearing the hungry baby would deplete their supply, they stopped sharing their milk," Nhat recalled.

Developing a strong connection with the child, Nhat decided to become his father, naming the boy Dinh Hong Phuc.

As a result, the priest had to hang up his cloak.

Three years later, hearing a couple had passed away leaving five children alone in Chu Puh District, Nhat drove the 40 kilometers through the forest to save the destitute siblings.

To bring up his sons and daughters, the former priest resorted to coffee cultivation, amongst other jobs. In 2018, Nhat was forced to leave some of his children at home to work the night shift at a local hospital, only bringing the youngest.

Seeing their adopted father illtreated at the hospital, the children eventually advised him to quit. 

While growing older, many of his kids started following Nhat around the farm to experience the true value of honest labor.

Besides, Nhat had to learn the local Gia Rai dialect to communicate with his adoptees, wanting them to remember both their roots and mother tongue.

After 14 years, he is now proud of the fact his spelling beats theirs.

"You are a member of the Gia Rai. Even though you struggle with the language, the blood of the forest runs through your body," Nhat once told his son Hong Phuc.

Reflecting on his most challenging charge, Nhat mentioned Hiep, abandoned by his parents at six months, and adopted by a childless couple.

Hoping his son could benefit from a real family, Nhat only asked to visit Hiep regularly and eventually noticed signs of domestic abuse.

Hiep, currently 5 years old and back with Nhat, hardly ever smiles.

5-month-old Dinh Duc was left at a church before being adopted. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

5-month-old Dinh Duc was left at a church before being adopted. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Diep.

"Now, no matter what happens, I will keep my children by my side. It will be hard, but we have love," the altruist said.

Nhat’s large family now has a decent house to live in, with beds and blankets for everyone. On weekdays, they eat dried fish and vegetable soup, with meat only served at weekends.

Some children, now grown, help their father with housework and taking care of their younger siblings.

Last year, as one of his kids graduated from university, Nhat was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Suffering from frequent bouts of fainting, the children started worrying about their father.

"I will start working after high school and not attend expensive university to help father buy milk," said H’Ra, 18.

H'Ra and her siblings rarely nap after lunch, instead gathering talk about their father’s health, and rubbing his head to reduce the pain.

go to top