Blind stool maker crafts his own determined path through life

While life has a way of throwing up all sorts of challenges for us in the pursuit of our dreams, perhaps the best test of character is how we deal with any misfortunes which befall us.
A blind man from Maed district in Vientiane province echoes these sentiments by believing that our lives are always meaningful even if an essential part is missing. It might be hard for us to achieve success in life but we should be proud of ourselves and what we can do, rather than making problems for our family and society.

MrKhenPhaliya makes a rattan stool at the recent World Wood Day event in Vientiane.

MrKhenPhaliya, 65, has been blind since the age of 10 and his early years were filled with difficulties but he never gave up and always tried to live his life like everyone else.
Aside from having problems with his eyes he now has to contend with some hearing loss, so we must speak a bit louder while talking to him.
As a teenager, he lived in a rural village in Maed district where there was not much for a youngster to do. Most people went to the woods each day to kook for something to sell, such as animals and wood.
It was hard for Khen to be a hunter but sometimes he went along with his friends.
Regular work was very difficult to come by for a blind person. Unperturbed, he turned himself into a woodcutter but he didn’t get as much as some of his friends.
In 1980, when Khen was in his late twenties, he often went into the forest to cut bamboo, which he made into rafts and took them to sell in Vientiane.
Despite his major sight impairment, he knew the forests very well; sometimes even better than other young men in the village.
“I went earlier in the day than other people. I spent more time cutting bamboo but I didn’t get as much as the others because it was more difficult for me, even if I had someone with me,” Khen said.
The work was hard and got even more difficult with many of his friends stopping because they had to go deeper and deeper into the woods in search of increasingly scarce bamboo and wood.
Always open to new opportunities and a fast learner, Khen stumbled across a small local shop selling rattan stools and an old gentleman there said they consistently sold well.
Khen went into the woods and cut rattan with a little help from his friends. Of course, he was on a steep learning curve to start with, mainly cutting the rattan deep in the forest while battling with thorns.
Initially, he toiled for three long days to complete a stool which he sold for the princely sum of 80 kip each. The price was very cheap because all his products were sold to local people.
In 1997, he asked for a job at Danlao Co., Ltd. in Nonsavang village, Viengkham district, Vientiane province, which was about four kilometres away from his home; quite a way for a blind man.
Now, Khen makes a decent living working for Danlao and can produce three stools a day, earning at least one million kip a month.
“This company is like my home now. They serve me food and it’s where I stay, so I have a much easier life compared to the past when I worked alone in the woods,” the humble Khen said.
But some days he still goes to the woods near the company premises when he needs something.
He says his life is easier now as he is not weighed down by over-ambitious expectations and he is at peace because he understands and accepts what he is good at.

(Latest Update April 5, 2018)

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