Francis Xavier Kinjin @ Oliver Putut, 39, born with phocomelia, epitomises resilience.
A rare congenital disorder has not stopped the Kadazan man from dreaming big and pushing himself to achieve greatness. Last year, Kinjin clinched the silver medal in weightlifting at the 2022 Para Sukma (Malaysia Games).
Apart from sporting excellence, Kinjin fills his days pursuing his many interests: He runs a business, dabbles in carpentry and has a certificate in pastry arts.
“I was born without legs and I have undergone many challenges in life. But, I won’t let these challenges shape who I am. I want to show the world that people with disabilities can do well in society if they get the right opportunities and support from their community,” says Kinjin in an interview from his home in Kampung Dabak in Penampang, Sabah.
Phocomelia is a congenital disorder that causes one’s arms and legs to be shorter or missing altogether.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), celebrated annually on Dec 3, aims to promote awareness, understanding, and the rights of people with
disabilities. Kinjin hopes special theme days like IPDP will highlight inspirational stories that can encourage others facing similar challenges.
“I am physically disabled but mentally alert, so I can do many things, including drive. I hope my accomplishments inspire others to strive hard to attain their dreams. I have a driving license, and in 2019, I managed to buy a brand new Myvi,” he proudly shares.
Kinjin, the youngest of five siblings, joins the ranks of many other people with disabilities who refuse to be defined or limited by their physical or cognitive differences. Individuals like Kinjin and motivational speaker/author Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs due to a rare congenital disorder called tetra-amelia syndrome, are often celebrated for their determination as they prove their capabilities, not only to others but also to themselves.
Kinjin fondly recalls how his mother, Claris Paulus, 71, instilled a powerful mantra in him.
“(She said that) not having legs doesn’t make me different. I still have my hands and brain to do things,” Kinjin recounts.
He remembers his mother’s wisdom always and applies it to everything he does, even to practical problem-solving. Kinjib shares that he endeavours to figure out solutions on his own, so that he can be independent and resilient no matter the circumstance.
“When I couldn’t reach something, she’d ask me to figure out how to get it on my own. If I was hungry, she told me the food is on the table, and I should get it myself. If I didn’t think of a way to climb up to rice cooker, then I’d stay hungry.
“I come from a poor family. My father left us after I was born as he couldn’t accept having a deformed child. My mother worked as a cleaner, earning RM250 a month, to raise my siblings and me. From a young age, I’ve known hardship and poverty. I thank God for giving me the strength to stay strong,” says Kinjin, who lives with his mother.
Kinjin’s journey hit a roadblock when he quit school in Form Two due to the lack of facilities for the handicapped in school.
He hopes the government will do more to assist students with special needs.
“There’s still a lack of awareness on the needs of people with disabilities, especially in smaller towns in East Malaysia. In both primary and secondary school, I remember how difficult it was to attend classes due to physical barriers, lack or ramps and transportation issues.
“I also think teachers should be trained to guide students with disabilities, to help them pursue their higher education,” says the former student from SM St Michael in Penampang, Sabah.
But even though Kinjin left school when he was 14, he never stopped learning. He turned to the Internet to stay informed about global events and enhance his understanding about things relevant to his day-to-day life.
His uncle, a carpenter, became a mentor, imparting life skills such as woodworking, carpentry, and angling. These skills, acquired with determination and resilience, form the foundation for Kinjin’s current endeavours.
Today, Kinjin crafts household items like baby cots, clothes hangers, and racks using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. He also creates handcrafted wooden items, including grottos, crosses, and carvings inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. He shares photos of his products on his Facebook.
His entrepreneurial spirit extends to occasional fishing trips, after which he sells catch for some income.
“I have to think of ways to earn an income. And I refuse to allow my physical disability to stop me from doing things that I’m passionate about. I may have to work harder than others but it has made me stronger and more determined.”
In 2011, he received a scholarship from the Asian Tourism International College to pursue a two-year certification in pastry arts at the college.
Kinjin says proudly: “I was the first person with disabilities to enroll in the college. After graduation, I worked as a pastry chef/cook in a bakery for six years.”
He has always dreamed of running his own business and so, while working with the Sabah Cheshire Home to raise awareness about accessibility for the disabled, Kinjin decided to make his dream a reality.
Since 2013, Kinjin has been running a grocery store – Kedai Runcit Oliver Pututs – beside his home. It isn’t big – measuring about 3.5m x 5m – but it means the world to the disabled man.
He has defied expectations and proven that determination can conquer even the most formidable obstacles.
“When I first launched my business, I only had RM80 in my savings. So I used the money to purchase dry food items like instant noodles, tinned sardine and eggs. Nowadays, I sell a range of items, from rice to detergent to drinks. Some people ridiculed me, saying my business wouldn’t last. But I have managed to sustain this business for 10 years,” he says.
“The key to survive in any situation is determination and will power.”
As if managing his business isn’t enough, he also keeps busy fulfilling orders for his handcrafted PVC racks and woodcraft from home. 10% of the proceeds from these orders go towards helping poor senior citizens and the disabled community in Penampang and Papar.
“I’ve been donating to communities in need since 2016. I honestly don’t know how much has been channelled to the poor since then. I do it secara ikhlas (sincerely). It has always been my dream to help others when I am blessed with better income. Many people have helped me along the way, and now it’s my time to give back to the community,” Kinjin concludes.