Ai Hong Sam, a Vietnamese-American doctor, has fostered hundreds of children for a simple reason that is “allowing these orphans to call me ‘mom’ as they have long desired.”

At that time, the Vinh Son orphanage in Thong Nhat Ward under Kon Tum Province, located in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, was struggling to survive as it was home to hundreds of orphans, who were in desperate need of nurturing.

Once in a while, charitable groups or individuals paid them a visit and were able to assist in extremely difficult times.

One day, a woman from distant America found out, gradually got to know them, and voluntarily took on the burden.

Every single thing is confided to Mother Sam

Sam and the nuns in the orphanage are sharing the tasks with one another.

While the nuns are in charge of looking after the children, she travels back and forth to provide them with financial support for their studies.

Sam said that everything is not yet perfect, but it does not mean they are neglected.

Right now, she mainly provides books, tuition fees, and medicine for them.

However, the children come to her for everything from a broken rice cooker, water pump, and driller to school fees.

Her children are of all ages and backgrounds.

This year, 25 of them are set to enter high school so she took them from Kon Tum to Ho Chi Minh City and looked for a house so that they could stay together and take care of one another.

When they wanted to attend vocational school, she spent hours sitting and listening to their thoughts to give directions to each of them.

She wanted them to lead a life more like hers. She is determined to buy nice clothes and give good things to them. 

Whenever she comes back from the U.S., she carries eight to ten suitcases containing gifts for her children.

She recounted that she once brought 250 pairs of jeans from the U.S. for all the children in the orphanage.

She was questioned by customs officers as she looked like a merchant.

However, the customs officers listened to her explanation, learned about the situation, and showed sympathy.

Also, when she bought watches for some older kids, she decided to get them for all.

It does not make sense if just a few of them own the watches, she said. “I’ve got to buy the nice ones as I love using the nice things, too,” she added.

However, they cost an arm and a leg.

Therefore, the seller tried to dissuade her and asked why she needed to buy expensive items for charity.

And then, the seller gave her the maximum discount so that she could afford watches for all the children.

Despite the huge costs for the children’s lives, she brought them to a luxury resort to blow off steam, as a way to compliment them.

She was criticized for her wastefulness. Social media users said that she should have used that money to help many more people.

She just giggled and said each person has their own educating method.

“To me, the most important thing is that my children learn to review themselves and look toward the future to strive for a better life,” she said.

“In order to get a leg-up, they have to feel the good and beautiful things of life to have a goal for effort. Otherwise, the children are satisfied with what they have, without any attempt.

“In spite of their difficult backgrounds, I need to think about their future.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic was put under control, she was back to visit the children and fostered two more.

Some of them are disabled: one of them has cerebral palsy and another was almost buried alive but was still breathing when discovered.

The nuns took them to the orphanage, and then she fostered both.

No one forced her to foster all the children, but she tried the best of her capacity.

To increase her income, she came up with new business plans.

“Now, whether expanding my business or doing extra work, I always take the children into consideration, running some kind of business or doing some work so that they can take part in step by step or raise income sources for their lives,” shared Sam.

Investment in children is profitable as they will become productive members of society and continue her dream mission, according to Sam.

Wholehearted care

“To me, doing charity work means giving not only the fish but also the rod. Furthermore, directions for effective use are needed as well,” Sam worried.

She realizes that she should give them more specific instructions as her children sometimes settle and stop trying to move forward.

“Mom, heading to the mountain field and bringing back enough cassava and rice every day are sufficient and fulfilling. We don’t need more,” they told her.

Frisco City in the U.S. state of Texas chose April 5 each year to be Sam Nguyen Day to honor Doctor Sam’s contributions to the community. Photo: N.S. / Tuoi Tre

Frisco City in the U.S. state of Texas chose April 5 each year to be Sam Nguyen Day to honor Doctor Sam’s contributions to the community. Photo: N.S. / Tuoi Tre

However, as a mother, she is not pleased to let her children feel satisfied with just that.

“I am able to support them to go to school, then at least after high school, on the threshold of life, a well-off future needs preparing,” she said.

Sam has put in a great deal of time in advising each of them.

The children have their own dreams and personalities, yet those dreams are hidden in life. As such, she is the one who elicits a life that is worth living and contributes more to society.

She is willing to appoint them to any position in her companies, or assist them with the house rent and tuition fees for learning.

Some of her children are working as a baking artist, a tour guide, a teacher, or a monk or a nun.

Recounting the reason why she keeps caring about the future of her children, she said, “ I want them not to feel smug about their present when I am capable of doing something for them for a better future.”

She hopes that she not only brings them up but also gives them career guidance and helps them become useful people to society.

This way is aimed at getting them out of adversity.

She always gives visionary orientations to her children, while her act turned ‘ridiculous’ in the eyes of inconsiderate people.

However, she thinks that without a future goal, her support for the children is useless.

Speaking of how to care about the innermost feelings and desires of such a large number of children, she said, “I choose the right way of communication. My children do not use smartphones, so there is a fixed time on a weekly basis to use laptops to talk, send emails and messages to me. I always listen and give them advice.”

She was once moved to tears by a message from one of her children.

Before he decided to lead a religious life, he asked her, “Mom, if I am devoted to religion, will you feel sad? If I become a monk, I won’t be able to help you take care of the younger brothers and sisters.”

She answered emotionally that “I am not sad at all, vice versa, I am happy as you have found your truth in life.”

It is not really true that only biological children are dutiful to their parents, while fostered ones sometimes bring happiness in life. 

Sam negotiated with her children that the older ones who can be independent and have a job will spend 10 percent of their income supporting their younger brothers and sisters.

That amount is worth little compared to what she covers in accommodation and transport fees for them.

“However, it is also a sign for the children to learn that their mother’s capacity is within limits. The more significant thing I want to pass on to them is to care about others, continue the giving, care and love,” she said.

Now, the happiness of Hong Sam, an enthusiastic social activist, is to wait for the words ‘Mother Sam’ from everywhere, when her children are full-fledged.

Sam Nguyen has been twice granted the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award by two U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama in 2015 and Joe Biden in 2022, for her contributions to society.

Sam is also the first Vietnamese person to be honored on April 5 annually by the city of Frisco in the U.S. state of Texas for her contributions to the community.

“It is not true that just do charity work and you will be respected. I used to receive judging looks and cruel preconceptions. For instance, they said I do so much charity work because I am backed up by a tycoon,” she shared.

“Or in America, after my fostered multi-racial children have grown up, people think that I am having affairs with them when seeing them walking with me on the street.

“Yet I won’t let those affect myself as I am doing nothing wrong.”

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