Disabled Tibetan photographer aims high

By Huang Yaoman, Jiang Fan and Lyu Qiuping (Xinhua) 08:48, December 11, 2023

LHASA, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Lhapa Dondrup is perhaps the shortest photographer in southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region.

Standing less than 1 meter tall, the wheelchair-bound Tibetan has brittle bone disease, which leads to frequent fractures. He is now 22 years old, despite doctors once predicting that he would never live beyond 20.

However, his physical disability has not stopped him from chasing his dream of becoming a photographer.

"Photography reminds me of the time when I was confined to bed during childhood. Lying in bed, I found that the rays of light through the window were so beautiful," Lhapa Dondrup recalled, adding that photography is his way of holding onto the beautiful moments in life.

Lhapa Dondrup takes photos during a wheelchair basketball training session in Lhasa, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, Nov. 26, 2023. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

Sunday marks Human Rights Day.

Lhapa Dondrup was born into a farming family in the rural area of Lhasa, the regional capital. His mother died when he was young, so he was adopted by relatives.

Suffering from frequent fractures, he was diagnosed with brittle bone disease at 5 years old. During second grade in primary school, he had an accident that almost killed him.

"I accidentally fell down, resulting in broken ribs, which pressed hard against my organs," Lhapa Dondrup recalled.

Concerned about his safety, his adoptive parents asked him to drop out of school. Long periods at home left Lhapa Dondrup feeling depressed, considering himself a burden both to his family and to society.

In 2018, he was offered to study at the Lhasa care center for people with disabilities, a development that gave him renewed hope.

"My family didn't allow me to go because of their fears concerning my health condition. So I lied to them, promising to return following a brief visit. But I stayed and studied there for three years," he said with a smile.

At the center, Lhapa Dondrup not only learned Tibetan calligraphy and Mandarin writing but also chose to learn photography and video editing, both of which he enjoys.

In his words, photography is all about light, with a photo capturing the light at a particular moment.

He believes his photographs are unique. "Because of my height, my point of view is lower than that of other people, so I hope to capture a peculiar type of light in life from my own angle," Lhapa Dondrup said.

In 2021, Lhapa Dondrup met Jole, a disabled entrepreneur who started a business for Tibetan calligraphy training and stationery sales. Of the 42 employees hired by his company, 27 have disabilities.

Lhapa Dondrup (1st, R) takes photos during a wheelchair basketball training session in Lhasa, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, Nov. 26, 2023. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

Inspired by Jole, Lhapa Dondrup asked to join the company.

Jole said Lhapa Dondrup is full of enthusiasm and ambition. "Most importantly, he didn't give up on himself, so I hired him," said Jole.

Jole supports Lhapa Dondrup's photography dream, giving him company cameras and encouraging him to pursue his dream. Caring people have also donated photographic equipment and taught him about photography.

Lhapa Dondrup is responsible for taking promotional photos for the company, as well as online operations. He earns 2,500 yuan (about 351.5 U.S. dollars) as monthly basic pay, excluding bonus, and receives 600 yuan from the government as a subsidy for people with disabilities.

This aerial photo taken on Dec. 2, 2023 shows Lhapa Dondrup practicing the operation of a drone in Lhasa, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

Last year, Lhapa Dondrup bought new clothes and shoes for his adoptive parents with his own salary to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.

"My parents were so happy, and I felt proud and confident to be supporting myself with my own hands," he said.

According to a white paper issued last month, a basic multi-tiered social security system has been established in Xizang. The surveyed urban unemployment rate has remained below the national average and the number of families with no one in work has been steadily reduced to zero, the paper said.

For Lhapa Dondrup, photography is more than just a way to make a living. In his spare time, he takes pictures of pet animals and people in Barkhor Street, a famous scenic and shopping area located at the heart of Lhasa. Driving a motor tricycle, he travels as far as possible.

Lhapa Dondrup is pictured in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region, Dec. 2, 2023. (Xinhua/Jiang Fan)

Next year, he plans to go to Beijing to visit his sister studying there.

"I want to take my camera to Tian'anmen Square and get some photos there," he said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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