March 2, 2024

TAYUM, Abra – How often do we focus on what’s not there and fail to recognize the beauty of what’s possible?

Amado Balneg is just like your typical painter who creates intricate, detailed, and masterful pieces of art, except he makes these without both hands.

Amado, at the age of 15, is far from the artist he is today. He was a working student, juggling between helping his parents earn a living and studying for his future.

In 1965, while working at a gasoline station in Manila, he was attacked by his fellow workers.

“I had loyal customers and patrons in the station before, so maybe some of my fellow workers got jealous, attacked me and set me on fire,” he recalled.

To save his life, Amado was left with no choice but to have both arms amputated.

He may have lost his limbs but he did not lose his hope for a better life.

“I was bedridden for more than one year and continued recovering from my injuries for at least two years. When I became handicapped, I did not have a job, so I decided to start drawing Christmas and greeting cards,” he shared.

Still wanting to be better at his craft, he enrolled in a school for persons with disabilities in Dagupan, Pangasinan to further hone his painting skills.

Armed with his determination and new skills, he started winning competitions in the provincial and regional levels. He even became a representative of the Cordillera in the National Olympics of Abilities of People with Disabilities or the “Abilympics” in Davao and in Pasay.

Aside from being the region’s pride, Amado, despite being handicapped, is the bread winner of his family. He was able to send his three children to school with the money that he earned from the competitions he joined in and from his small business.

“Painting helped me a lot especially in the education of my children. If I am able to sell a few of my works in a month then I have enough money for my children to use,” he said.

A small hut in Poblacion, Tayum serves as a creative space where he usually turns blank canvasses to eye-catching art works. Aside from painting, he is also an expert in T-shirt printing. In fact, most schools around town get their uniforms printed in his little shack.

He is sought after in different areas in the province for the mural paintings he does for churches and basketball courts, among others. Students, teachers’ associations, and schools around Abra also come for his expertise in various works of art.

“I sell the 18 by 24 portrait painting for P5,500. The price also varies depending on the size of the canvass to be used,” he said.

From uniform printing, mural painting, portrait drawing to canvass painting, Amado gladly accepts requests as he earns extra cash from these.

Robbed of opportunities when he was young, Amado’s determination and creativity remained.

“When I was amputated, the thought of giving up did not cross my mind. What I was thinking was I can still draw so I started making greeting cards,” he said.

He hopes his art will inspire people to look beyond the surface and see what’s truly beautiful underneath.

Amado might not have his hands, but he is overflowing with determination and a positive outlook to be a role model for people who are facing challenges to push themselves to conquer and overcome their limits. – Christian Alister G. Tubadeza