Dang Thi Ngoc Nhung has been living with her adoptive parents in their tiny, makeshift house for eight years now.
“My family is very poor. My own mother was sick and had no money, so she died when I was 8. My father was so sad and started drinking.
“I had no one to love me, to care for me. I started to play around and stopped studying,” Nhung explained why she dropped out at ninth grade.
One day when she was wandering around Ho Chi Minh City, she met her adoptive parents, Ngo Thi Kim Van and Nguyen Van Hoang, and became the first child they took into their small home, followed by 29 others.
But Tuoi Tre reported that their family is facing the risk of falling apart because local officials in Binh Hung Commune, Binh Chanh District have required Van and Hoang to apply for a license to run a shelter home, with strict conditions that the couple is unlikely to meet.
Nhung, now 21, and her brothers and sisters have written many letters in an attempt to persuade the officials to change their mind.
“I have been loved again and learned to love again. I have changed, I have gone back to school,” Nhung said in the letter.
Van said she and her husband need more time to earn enough money to build a larger house to meet requirements for a charity facility license.
But officials have given her several notices and their latest deadline is June 15.
They have ordered her to return the children back to their families or to an orphanage if they have no family left.
Local media named Van’s place “the happy home” as it stands in a slum across an apartment building called Happy on Nguyen Van Linh Street.
Van said the children first came for meals and studied with her two children, but then they stayed.
The couple send all the children to school. Nhung has finished high school and will study at a vocational school.
They have raised the children with free or cheap food bought from a wholesale market more than ten kilometers away. They started receiving donations a few years ago thanks to media reports.
They also built bathrooms and classrooms for the children, who are also given free English, art and music lessons from volunteers in the area.
And the whole family earn their living by making handbags.
“It’s been like this for eight years. We’ve been a family,” Van told Tuoi Tre.
While the report did not quote any official, Van was cited as saying that she has tried very hard the past years to apply for a charity license but she could not meet all the requirements, including the space limit of 10 square meters a person.
Officials visiting her house have all shaken their heads after seeing many of the children eating without a dining table, she said.
Van said her house is located in an area slated for a property project and she plans to use the relocation compensation to buy a piece of land and build a bigger house.
“The government should wait for me. Once the children leave this family, they will be out of school again.”
Most of the children were brought to Van by their grandmothers after their parents were jailed, dead, or remarried.
Van has called the grandmothers about sending them back.
Doan Thi Be Lon rushed over from the Mekong Delta to see her grandchild Hai, even though she does not know what to do if the boy really has to leave the shelter.
Lon said Hai was sold by his mother, who was 17 at the time, to a family.
But the boy kept falling sick, so the family returned him to the grandmother, who is too poor to take care of him.
So Lon took him to Van’s place.
“Every time I visit him, I’ve seen him become nicer. Now if the government wants me to take him back, there’s no way I can raise him.”