PESHAWAR: While the developed world makes strides in offering multiple career opportunities to the disabled, in a country like Pakistan, those who happen to be both physically challenged and poor are still viewed by many as a burden.
Yet far from letting his limited mobility be a handicap, one Kalash man has not only found success for himself by honing his artistic talents but has also managed to support the destitute among his fellow villagers.
A resident of the village of Kalash Gam, Rehmat Wali was just a child when he lost the ability to move one arm and leg after contracting polio. But rather than letting the tragedy hold him back, he chose to focus on the one ability that no condition could rob him of – his creativity.
Putting his artistic mind and other two limbs to work, Rehmat pursued the craft of carving intricate wood sculptures relentlessly. Now 40, his creations have won him renown from far and wide, as well as fetching him yearly earnings of between Rs400,000 and Rs500,000.
“Give me any picture, and I can replicate it perfectly on diyar (Himalayan cedar) wood,” Rehmat told The Express Tribune. “I have turned wood into replicas of many things… from birds and animals, like the markhor, to real people and various objects, like the tools used to dig up mountains.”
According to Rehmat, his wood sculptures of markhors in particular are his bestsellers. “The animal is the symbol of Chitral, so it is very much loved and sought after by my customers,” he said. “I sell a single Markhor sculpture for between Rs40,000 and Rs45,000, and it takes me 15 to 20 days to complete the carving.”
“I remember when we were young, Rehmat would weep when he saw us going to school,” recalled Kalash MPA Wazir Zada. “But even though his condition would force him to crawl at times, he never allowed it to hold him back.”
“Tourists from far and wide, from elsewhere in Pakistan to the rest of the world, have purchased Rehmat’s sculptures,” he said. “Everyone who comes across them is awestruck by their intricacy. The Brazilian ambassador, for instance, was absolutely swept away by Rehmat’s art during his visit to the Kalash valley.”
However, it is not just Rehmat’s artistic talent that makes him special, said Wazir. According to him, Rehmat uses a significant amount from his earnings to help poor residents of his village and spends time training young members of the Kalash community.
“Rehmat also turned down the opportunity to receive a stipend from the fund for disabled person,” the MPA said. “He is a role model, not just for the Kalash community, but disabled people all over the world,” he said adding that the craftsman will soon be nominated for the presidential award and that all paperwork in this regard has been completed.
Rehmat himself, meanwhile, had some advice for others with disabilities. “Never lose courage. Work hard and learn, you can achieve anything with diligence.”
Although Rehmat could not get married and start a family of his own, he had no regrets. “I get immense joy from helping others,” he said. “Art is not just my bread and butter, it is my identity.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2019.