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The story of Cornelius Yalamu – a young artist with a different ability


THE house is corrugated and stands alone on a block at the foot of the small Port Moresby hill. On this windy day, it is a shield to those within its surrounds.

A young lad can be seen from afar.His head is bent and he seems absorbed in what is at his feet. He is seated on a blue plastic chair and is transfixed on the white paper where a brown-coloured pencil is drawing a car.

The pencil is clutched between his big toe and the second toe.

Cornelius Yalamu is eight years old and is of mixed Eastern Highlands and Morobe descent. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy six months after birth.

“All his strength comes from his feet to draw and hold things. He can draw with his feet and he can also write with his feet,” says his mother as Cornelius looks up from his drawing.

Cornelius Yalamu at workBorn in 2005 to Pamela and Philemon Yalamu, Cornelius (also called Dati) taught himself to draw and do other chores using his feet.

Pamela and Philemon didn’t notice his disability until six months of age. Warning bells rang when he reached this age and couldn’t lift his legs.

“When he turned one year old when we realised something was wrong with him,” said Pamela.

Cornelius would not have come this far without the love and support given of his parents.

“He’s a very talented boy and is very creative despite his condition. I always push him to go further despite his condition and aim for new things which could give him challenges,” said Philemon, who is a lecturer in graphics and multimedia design at the University of PNG, and also the first Papua New Guinean to obtain a Masters qualification in this field.

“I did not show him how to draw or paint or even recommend him to do it,” said Philemon. “He liked watching me paint and work on the computer. In fact, I didn’t know he could draw until his mother showed me his artwork and I was very impressed.”

While Cornelius is a shining star among the rest of the people with disabilities, adequate services and professional help are still lacking in PNG.

With the governments ‘free education policy’ aimed at ensuring education for all, people with disability like Cornelius are still missing out not because they don’t want to go but because the public infrastructure and services are not adequate to enable them to participate.

“The support we got from professionals was not enough to enable us to assist Cornelius so we decided to keep him at home and teach him ourselves,” said Philemon.

Cornelius with PhilemonCornelius has finished drawing his car and a triumphant smile appears on his face as he colours it green.

“He liked to draw when he turned three so we encouraged him to draw,” said Pamela.

“His dad bought his pencils and we taught him at home. I taught him the alphabet, numbers and he caught up with them.”

As the wind continues to blow, Cornelius’s strokes on the car get smaller as he nears the end of his drawing. His persistence is complete.

The National Disability Resource and Advocacy Centre is a local not-for-profit organisation located within Divine Word University.

It advocates for a rights based inclusive and barrier free society where persons with disabilities are recognisd for their different abilities and allowed to participate in the development of Papua New Guinea. 

Rhonda Clement is Communication & Media Officer in the National Disability Resource & Advocacy Centre (NDRAC) at Divine Word University


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Mackenzie Mistera

Thanks mom and dad for that wonderful Dati. Something is worthwhile for every day counts. Never there is a failure.

Disability doesn't matter, it's where your mind is that counts Dati. You can do extremely well, my boy. Keep it up!

God bless you and family.

Leonard Roka


People like me act tough because all our body systems are intact and functional. Putting oneself in the shoes of Dati, it's all shocking.

Dati - real inspiration since you have the power and will to go.

David Kasei Wapar

Quite inspiring!

Those with special needs such as Cornelius can contribute meaningfully to the development of this country if adequate training and support facilities are provided.

Hats off to the National Disability Resource & Advocacy Centre (NDRAC) for the great effort in empowering them!

Robert Banasi

I always was inspired by you and you have been a great role model for Children with Disabilities in Papua New Guinea.

Go Dati! You have nothing to stop you now.

Philemon Yalamu

Thanks Mrs Barbara for the comments. Dati is still drawing and has since ventured into computer graphics.

It's the guys at NDRAC whom we'd like to thank the most for bringing Dati out to the public.

Robin Lillicrapp

Great story. Dati - your family is a shining example of the true grit that lies behind the capacity of the national family, if it will only see it.

Mrs Barbara Short

Wonderful story. Good on you Dati. Keep up with your drawing. God bless you Pamela and Philemon.

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