Millionaire Samaritan in debt after raising 73 children

Updated: 2015-06-19 15:25


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Millionaire Samaritan in debt after raising 73 children

Li Lijuan holds one of her adopted babies suffering from fever after it is discharged from hospital in Shijiazhuang, capital city of North China's Hebei province, Jan 26, 2013. [Photo/CFP]

A woman in Wu'an, North China's Hebei province, has spent the past 19 years using the millions she made from her investments in the 1980s to house 73 abandoned children

Li Lijuan just turned 46 on April 26. But she's already a "mother" of 73 children, with only one of them her own.

Every morning, she gets up at 5, makes breakfast, cleans the house yard, and sends 22 kids off to school by driving a minibus.

Years' devotion to the adoptive children has whitened much of Li's hair. The rough skin on her face makes her look like an old woman.

However, few people would know Li used to be millionaire, who acquired her wealth through garment business and smart investment in the iron ore industry in the 1980s.

In 2008, the iron mine got in the way of urban construction and was eventually shut down. After losing her major source of income, Li was no longer able to meet the costs of her large family.

Her financial woes took another turn in 2011 after Li was diagnosed with early-stage lymphoma.

The former millionaire was sick, but unwilling to spend money on treatment as she felt it could be better put to use taking care of her adopted children.

She only spent only seven days at the hospital before checking out.

Selling off her properties and possessions did not improve matters much. Neither did donations or help from friends and relatives. Her current debt stands at over 2 million yuan (about $322,000).

Although some volunteered to look after the children, strict adoption laws make it difficult for them to legally find new foster guardians.

All of her foster children are registered under her name and were never formally declared orphans, meaning they cannot be adopted by other families under Chinese laws.

Though Li receives donations from charities, the cost of raising children, many of whom require extensive operations for disabilities and other birth defects, far outweighs the money she receives.

Despite the struggle with making ends meet and poor health, Li said she was a proud mother pointing out that three of her children have gone to universities and one is a public servant.

The only regret she has is that she has been estranged from her biological son, Xiaowen, for the past 10 years. Li became a single mother after a divorce when Xiaowen was four.

The little boy suffered a serious spinal injury in 2004 and had to undergo surgery, but her mother was not able to be by his side because she was taking one of her foster children to another hospital for a follow-up operation.

Xiao became severely depressed due to his mother's absence and had to seek professional help. He now lives with his grandmother.

Kindness runs in family

Li Lijuan credits her grandfather and mother for setting a good example for her.

Her grandfather, Li Zirong, was a famous doctor, often offering free treatment and donating food and money for the poor patients.

Li's mother, who is now 84, has been helping Li take care of 10 orphans.

Five daughters of Li have offered to take one of their brothers or sisters as a "dowry" when they get married.

Striving for better future

Now the search is on for some means of keeping the children fed and clothed. Adoption by others is one option. However, the children are technically no longer orphans, being under Li's name now, and so she cannot give them away even if she wants to, and has been forced to refuse existing offers.

Therefore, Li hopes to establish a private-run welfare house which she has already named "Love Village".

"I don't want it to be called an orphanage as I don't want my children to feel like they have no parents," Li was quoted as saying in report on May 18, 2015. "In the 'Love Village', I am the mother of them all."