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Quadriplegic artist is brushed by fate

Update: February, 11/2012 - 11:05


Miracle world: When not undergoing physical therapy, Tam spends most of his free time painting.
When a serious traffic accident left him paralysed 14 years ago, Do Minh Tam, an electrician by profession, sank into depression. His life would serve no purpose since he was completely helpless, he thought.

Following the accident, the Thanh Hoa native was adopted by the Take Wings Centre at Maison Chance Charity House in HCM City's Binh Tan District.

Tam tried to overcome his depression by doing whatever he could, typing on a computer, operating a sewing machine and so on. Then he learnt to paint from artists who were invited to teach at the centre. This became another turning point in his life.

Painting has given his life special meaning, although it's not an easy process. With his hands and legs rendered immobile, Tam has to sit on electric wheelchair to move around and paint with a brush held in his mouth.

It takes Tam several months and up to three years to complete a painting. Beginning in 2008, he has never thrown away any of his works. He said at the beginning, he copied works by famous painters.

Tam cannot go on field trips to get inspiration for his paintings so he delves into memories of his hometown in Thanh Hoa and develops his own ideas.

"I have to paint by holding a paint brush in my mouth because life forces me to do it. I have no choice. At the beginning I felt dizzy and my neck was painful. Now I feel better but there's still a little pain," Tam said.

He said that before he started painting, he did not know anything about it. Now it has become something he cannot live without.

However, Tam cannot sit for long periods of time with the brush in his mouth. He recalled that during the first days when he began painting, he could not eat because of pain near his neck and mouth.

Despite the pain, Tam is happy that he can be of some help. Most of this works have been sold for raising funds for charity. One of his paintings sold for VND31 million (US$1,470) at an art auction for a charitable project in Binh Phuoc Province.

Recently, during an art exhibition at the Ba Chuong Catholic Church in HCM City, Tam was putting finishing touches to a painting titled Tieng Vong Than Tam (Echo from Body and Mind) when a woman who saw it decided to buy it for VND5 million ($230).

Tam said he donated half the money for charity. He sees it as a way to return what he has received from life.

Tam was almost abandoned at the HCM City Trauma and Orthopaedic Hospital after his accident. Knowing his situation, the hospital's doctors introduced him to a Swiss woman called Aline Rebeaud, a fine arts student who had set up the Take Wings Centre to give the underprivileged a home and chance to start a new life.

"I was really depressed at that time. I did not want to do any thing when I was adopted by the centre, because at that time I knew I cound not do any thing with my health in this condition. Later, I became determined that I have to be a helpful person," Tam said.

The centre was set up in 1993 by Rebeaud, who had come to Viet Nam in 1992 to pursue her studies. She became aware of the dire poverty endured by many of the sick, homeless and disabled in the country and decided to do something about it.

During the first days, the centre was financed by her family, relatives and friends back in Switzerland, and since then, word-of-mouth has brought more people and businesses to help.

Besides more than 30 disabled painters, the centre is usually home to several people in difficulties, including orphans, the homeless, sick people, street children and children of poor families in the neigh-bourhood.

At the centre, they are taught painting, sewing, computing and handicrafts. Once they manage to work and earn a living by themselves, they leave and create a place at the centre for others in need. — VNS

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