Yen Trinh, a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper contributor, recently embarked on a heartfelt journey alongside a family of four. In this account, Trinh eloquently chronicles the challenges and beauty of their daily life.
On a rainy afternoon, a father returned home with his three young sons, their clothes wet and bodies shivering. They wore expressions of sorrow, burdened by a stack of unsold lottery tickets.
The wearied father hunched over in the kitchen to prepare a meal for his children, while the boys found solace by immersing themselves in the joy of reading.
Residents of Street 36 in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City have become accustomed to the sight of Ngo Quang Dang, 57, and his cart. It is on this cart that he brings his three sons along to sell lottery tickets.
All three children have developmental disabilities. During the summer, the eldest son doesn’t have to go to school, so 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 and climbed onto a makeshift cart, approximately one meter long. Dang had thoughtfully added a roof to protect them from the elements. With his worn-out hat on his head, Dang commenced their daily journey.
As they traversed through Kha Van Can Street and Street 37, and made their way through the bustling Binh Thai Intersection before turning onto Do Xuan Hop Street, Dang approached pedestrians, offering them lottery tickets as he walked.
Meanwhile, the three children sat on the cart, observing the traffic and engaging in playful interactions with each other.
By almost 11:00 am, having sold all their lottery tickets, Dang pushed his sons back home.
The combined weight of the three children is close to 70 kilograms, causing Dang’s thin shirt to become drenched in sweat. Upon reaching home, the boys playfully unraveled themselves while Dang reheated 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 gently uttered as he fed a slice of bread to Minh.
At first glance, one wouldn’t discern that the father and sons were all living with developmental disabilities, relying on one another for their daily lives.
Quang, the youngest child, struggles to speak fluently and often spends hours humming.
After the meal, the father settled down to catch a moment’s respite, reflecting on the circumstances of his life.
When his wife left, he felt more bewildered than ever. He now carries the sole responsibility of caring for his three children.
“Every day, I wake up at 3:00 am,” Dang said. “During the school year, I typically prepare myself 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 summer, the father and his sons face the challenges brought by heavy rain. Recounting their difficulties, he shared that all three children fell ill with fevers, 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 reminisced about the time when his family situation was not as dire. Although they faced financial distress, his wife provided support by taking care of 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. He expressed 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 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Yen Trinh / Tuoi Tre
Only one child goes to school
Inside the house belonging to Dang’s nephew, the walls are adorned with a somber shade of brown. One wall is proudly decorated 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 Vinh’s accomplishments in the first and second grades.
Near the stairs, a wheelchair stands, a poignant reminder of his daughter, for whom it was intended but tragically never used.
Aside from these belongings, little else holds 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 from his previous school year’s notebooks, filled in with vibrant purple ink. 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, repeating them multiple times and reviewing 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 were covered by his school’s study promotion fund and contributions from 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 finish their first-grade school year), has yet to start attending school.
Full of energy, Minh often engages in running around and playing with toy blocks, alongside Quang, the youngest member of the family.
Thao, a 25-year-old neighbor living near Dang’s house, takes the initiative to teach Minh spelling and basic arithmetic during her spare time.
Thao shared that Minh occasionally visits 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, nurturing their well-being.
He longed 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 bring my children along when selling lottery tickets, some people find it hard to believe that I’m their father, mistaking me for someone much older,” Dang said.
“Despite being younger than 60 years old, I seem closer to the age of a 70-year-old.”
|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. He is 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, expressing their 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 it.”
Taking care of three children is a challenging task for a father who himself faces mental challenges.
Despite that, Dang’s profound 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 Dang 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 to care 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.