Monday, August 19, 2019

From knees to the wheelchair: a story of pain and struggle

Photo of Rinchen Dorji, a physically challenged student of Khasadrapchu MSS

Life is a choice. How we live it depends on our ability to accept who we are and find peace within ourselves. When we have a disability, it does not mean that we don’t deserve to live. We all have disabilities. The only difference is that some are visible and some are not. As we all know, life does not treat everybody alike. It often throws lemons at you and if you can’t make lemonade out of them, it is said that you will have to go through the sour taste of time forever. A positive mind, charged with optimism and determination, is what takes a person to lift himself up from the pain and find a new purpose in life. It is this positive energy that has transformed the life of Rinchen Dorji, a physically challenged student of Khasadrapchu Middle Secondary School in Thimphu.

Rinchen was born in Nangla Gewog under Zhemgang Dzongkhag on 20th December 1999. His parents were overjoyed by his arrival in the family since he was the first child. However, the excitement in the family soon turned into a state of shock and sadness as he was found to be born with deformed legs. His parents knew that he won’t be able to walk like others as his feet were abnormally bent upward. Nevertheless, his loved ones around him especially his mother never gave up their hope and looked after him well. Despite being seen different from rest of the kids, he had a comparatively happy childhood in the village. By the time he was mature enough to go to school, he had already learned to walk on his knees. The primary school in his village neither had special programs nor facilities to cater to the needs of students with disabilities, but he was lucky enough to get admission in the school quite easily.

Despite several challenges such as the lack of accessible infrastructures in the school and other social barriers created by his disability, Rinchen gradually managed to push himself up through every rung of his academic ladder. For almost fifteen years, he walked on his knees to go to school. “Most of my friends and teachers were very supportive and helpful. They always made sure that I was safe and happy” he told me on Facebook Messenger. However, he said that there was a time when he even had to pay people for carrying him to and from the school when he couldn’t walk. “I had to resume walking on my knees after I could no longer afford to pay my helpers” he said.

His life took another tragic turn when he was ten. His parents got divorced and his father abandoned them forever. Since then, his mother had to work hard everyday to make sure that they didn’t go hungry. With no adequate means and resources to support the family, his mother soon remarried to have somebody to help her and share her responsibilities. He said that his stepfather always treated him and his younger brother like his own biological children and never made them miss their father.

However, he had the biggest turning point of his life in April 2014 when he got the opportunity to meet His Majesty the King who had come to Zhemgang to inaugurate the newly constructed Panbang bridge. During His Majesty’s visit to his school after the inaugural function, he was assessed by the accompanying doctor and was advised to come to Thimphu for prosthesis. In the winter of that year, he and his mother travelled to Thimphu where he underwent surgery and got his prosthetic legs. But despite several months of training and practice, he could not use his artificial limbs since he developed some infections. He even went to Bangkok for further treatment with the help of his adopted brother, Ronald Stok from Netherlands whom he had met on Facebook. But against all hopes and expectations, his situation did not improve. “I felt very sad. It was really frustrating to realize that my dream to walk like others was not going to come true” he said. He lost all his hopes and dreams. He cursed himself for being born with such a disability and started hating his own life. But once again, His Majesty the King came to his rescue. Since his medical condition required him to be within the proximity of a good hospital, he was given admission in Khasadrapchu Middle Secondary School and his mother was employed as a sweeper in the same school to support him. After all the efforts to use prosthetic legs failed, he finally landed up on the wheelchair. Today, he is studying in class 10 and he is enjoying his life to the fullest. Recently, he has even released a music video featuring himself with his own life story.

As a wheelchair user, the biggest challenge he is currently facing is the lack of physical accessibility. Had there been accessible sidewalks, ramps and other disabled-friendly facilities in place especially in public and government institutions, every wheelchair user could have led a fully independent life. The government needs to invest more on making cities and public institutions more inclusive and accessible for all so that even persons with disabilities like Rinchen can meaningfully participate in the mainstream society. Today, we don’t see so many wheelchair users in the public, not because they are few in number, but because we don’t have accessible infrastructure and facilities in place to enable them to come out of their homes. It is high time that we all start thinking about how we can make our environment more safe and friendly for persons with disabilities so that we all can live together in harmony.

Music Video

Below is the music video recently released by Rinchen Dorji:


  1. My adopted brother and family
    Always there for you brother

    1. Dear Ronald, I am so happy for Rinchen that he has got such a generous brother like you. He told me how you have been one of the sources of motivation and inspiration for his success thus far. Keep up the good work and God bless you!

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