Triumphing against the odds

Thirty-one-year-old Pema Tshering from Tshakarling in Mongar was diagnosed with cerebral palsy since birth but today Pema is an independent entrepreneur earning almost Nu 20,000 on an average in a month, He is one of the most recognized painters and wood-carvers in Bhutan.

He was abandoned at the tender age of six when his parents found out that he had cerebral palsy. Left to his grandparents’ care, Pema started learning how to use his feet as his hands. For 20 years, he lived in the village making bows and arrows out of bamboo.

Pema uses his feet to hold a chisel and hammer, nimbly carving his way through a piece of wood. Paralyzed from the hip up, he has lived almost his entire life using his feet in place of his hands. He also has congenital deformities in his spinal column, resulting in limited use of his legs.

Despite his handicap, he has managed a living out of selling his creations at a small shop set up inside the compound of Youth Development Fund which was set up by the Queen Mother. Ranging from dragons to floral patterns and to the eight auspicious signs, Pema has sold a number of his creations. His works range from Nu 600 to Nu 25,000 at craft workshops.

In 2005, Pema also participated in Bhutan Paralympics as an archer and visited India, Nepal, Thailand, China and Hongkong to show case his talent in art crafting.

At the age of 18, Pema met with Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuck at his village, which changed his life forever.

Recollecting the moment, Pema said Her Majesty asked him if there was anything that he wanted. “I told her I wanted to go to school. I didn’t want money or anything else,” he said.

The Queen Mother then sponsored his education at Bhutan’s renowned art school Institute of Zorig Chusum in Thimphu. It was here where Pema started to learnt how to carve and paint for six years.

Speaking to Business Bhutan, Pema said youth today complain a lot about unemployment but there are many employment opportunites available. “It is just that youth aim for a cushy job.”

He also added everything starts with a single and small step to reach your goal in life but people want to make it big overnight.

However, today Pema has built a two-storey house for his parents in Mongar and own a Hundia i10. He has employed a driver to pick up and drop him home from his work place. He is the eldest in his family along with his two sisters working as an engineer and teacher.

Pema said he has dreams to travel to New York in the US to learn new and modern designs and return to Bhutan to teach art and start his own carving business and also help underprivileged people.

Tshering from Thimphu