He was abandoned by his parents as a child. Because he had Cerebral Palsy. But that didn’t stop this young man from taking in his farmer parents back into his life after he became successful. This is his inspiring story…
One of the most striking things about Pema Tshering, and you’ll notice them immediately, are his eyes. They are not just bright with the vigour of optimism, they radiate a warmth that comes from trust and deep love. They laugh, just like him – with an intensity that betrays the hard times he has seen. And they dance.
The only parts of his body that can dance.
I’ve met him about three times now, on my Bhutan trips, and despite my forays into the country since 2012, I only met him first this very year. He has become, to me, Bhutan’s best kept secret.
What Does He Do
Pema was diagnosed with CP as a child. He is paralysed from waist up, but that hasn’t stopped this 31 year old from becoming an artist.
Yes, you read that right. He is an artist in Bhutan.
He makes intricate Thangkha paintings and wood carvings of Bhutan’s traditional and religious symbols. He has a workshop/studio in Simply Bhutan in Thimphu – an endeavour run by the Queen Mother where guests get to experience Bhutan’s rich culture, its traditions and get to meet Pema!
Pema works with his legs. In fact, one of the hostesses told us that he has used his legs in place of his hands for the longest time, and despite a deformity in his spine that severely restricts his leg movements as well, Pema has managed to make them dexterous and agile.
His Early Years
After being abandoned by his parents, he lived with his grandparents in a village. Needless to say, he had a hard life.
Pema’s talent was discovered by the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuk when she was visiting his village. He expressed his desire to ‘study’ and since he had had no formal education until then, and he was so good with his hands…errr…legs…that she brought him to Thimphu to receive formal education in Bhutan’s traditional arts and crafts. Pema was 18 years old then.
The institute where Pema studied is called Institute of Zorig Chusum located in Thimphu. This institute is in fact, a must see for tourists as well, where several young boys and girls are trained in traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan such as sculpture making, tailoring, painting, wood carvings etc., in an effort to keep these arts and crafts alive and to proffer children, who are not good in academics or do not wish to pursue it, an opportunity to get vocational training and eventually earn a good living.
Watching Pema carve and create is a joy, although it is certain that your heart will go out to him as you watch his face in concentration, his feet at work and his focus intact.
It is painstaking work nevertheless, and thanks to the benevolence of the Royal family and his hard work, Pema is able to earn a reasonable livelihood. He also supports his parents now, who he has forgiven for abandoning him.
But that’s not about all. Watching Pema work is also a revelation to what the body can achieve if you set your mind to it. He doesn’t get invited to talk shows to share words of wisdom. There are no inspiring video made on him. That’s because Pema doesn’t talk much – he has difficulty with speech – but one look at his at work is enough to know that this young man is grit and determination personified.
By sharing his story, I hope that children with CP will be inspired to look beyond the disability for their strengths – whatever they may be. I also hope that parents of children with CP will be inspired by Pema’s story and focus on making their child independent.
On your Bhutan trip, I highly recommend sparing the time to meet Pema at the Foot Crafts stall in Simply Bhutan. Even if you cannot buy anything from him, your smiles and words of encouragement will make him beam and his eyes, dance!
Instead of posting photos, this time I thought I’d post a short homemade video of clippings from videos I shot of Pema. Please excuse the rookie quality… Video making is clearly not one of my strengths 🙁