Ngawang Tsetan was 14 years old when he was electrocuted. It happened in the small village of Tibetan exiles called Himachal Pradesh in India where Ngawang lived. “All the children were happy and played together simply, under the watchful eyes of the elders. It was quite normal for kids there to hop from roof to roof, running, chasing each other playing hide and seek,” Ngawang recalls. “One day, my cousin and I chased a lost kite that got stuck up in a tree and decided to try to get it down. I found a long metal bar and tried to free the kite, I was electrocuted because I was not aware of the electrical wires running through the tree.” Much of what happened after that is a blur for Ngawang. After a six-hour ride in an ambulance to the hospital located in Chandigarh, the medical team amputated both of his arms.
Ngawang does not remember what happened at the moment of the intense electric shock but immediately afterward the horror set in. “I remember realizing that my clothes were on fire and that my cousin was trying to put out the flames,” he says. “I remember then being put in a taxi by my aunt to be driven to the hospital. She was holding my arm and I was praying in my heart that I wouldn’t die today.” But Ngawang was soothed by the sudden realization that he had not died due to the huge surge of electricity that had gone through his body, that he had survived. Ironically, says his greatest fear was not losing his arms. “I wasn’t scared or afraid of the strong possibility of having my limbs amputated. I just didn’t fear that, but I was afraid that dying would leave my mother without her only son,” he tells GLAM4GOOD.
Ngawang recalls many physically and mentally painful memories associated with the accident but says one of the most memorable was the daily changing of the bandages over his entire body. “This took place without painkillers as they used cotton to clean all the wounds, then re-bandage my body.” Ngawang held onto his only ray of hope during this very dark time. It was the image of the day he would be released to go home and return to his family. GLAM4GOOD asked Ngawang to tell us about the people that helped him get through something so devastating. He credits the two most important women in his life.
“There were two angels in my life that I will always remember. The first angel was my Mom who kept me strong during the most difficult time of my life. She went with the least amount of food that could keep a person alive just because of the seriousness and concerns she had for me. She almost refused to eat for two months while I was in the hospital. Drastic measures became necessary in order to meet my special needs, physically and mentally. My mother consulted the principal at my former boarding school for assistance in determining the best course of action for my education and care. He remembered seeing a segment on the television news series, 60 Minutes, about a non-profit organization which helped children in need of special surgery and prosthetic limbs from injuries suffered during wars, accidents and natural disasters. After some research, my principal was able to contact this organization on my behalf. This was the first communication with the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF) in Staten Island, New York and its director, Elissa Montanti. At that time, I had no idea that she would become both my second mother, angel, and savior.” Very soon after establishing contact With Elissa Montanti, arrangements were made for Ngawang and his mother to get on a plane and head to the United States. “I felt like my prayers had been answered and that my dream was about to come true,” Ngawang says. Elissa Montanti and GMRF continue to help support Ngawang and his medical treatments today.
When asked if there was anything positive that came out of such a devastating experience Ngawang’s response is inspiring. “My accident was the most humbling experience and made me realize that no matter what happens in life or what you do in life, you have to treat people the way you would like to be treated. No matter what they look like, they have feelings just like you and me. The maturity that I developed going through the difficult stages of this accident at such a young age has helped me to grow and realize the seriousness of life and the consequences that come with every decision and action that I make. Also, the unexpected opportunity to be brought to the United States of America where there are more people willing to accept me for who I am and not what I look like. The comfort of being treated in high-school like anyone else and the friendships I formed, made the overall experience great. It made me feel so open and secure with myself in the way I look.”
We asked Ngawang what he would tell other kids going through a challenging time in their life, “I would advise them to never give up, to keep a positive attitude and to trust in God,” he says. “You have to realize that no matter how bad your own problems are in life and what you are going through, it may not compare to those problems that other people are going through. For example, some people don’t have a roof over their head or any other shelter to protect them; the children in war torn countries have lost their loved ones, their limbs and everything else and don’t have the opportunities that we take for granted every day.”
Ngawang says that despite his positivity and how far he has come since the accident there are still some challenges he must face as an amputee. “I don’t like the weird way some people look at me and I can’t tell them to not look at me this way. I accept what they think of me and their reactions. I can’t change everyone’s opinion about me. Some people are just curious about what happened and I can understand they would be interested to know the answer,” he tells GLAM4GOOD. “Once people get to know me they realize that I am normal and want to be shown the same courtesies, the same attention, and respect that any other person looks forward to receiving. The word handicapped is not in my vocabulary, PERIOD. People may call me handicapped, but I have never, ever considered myself to be that.”
Now at 19 years old, Ngawang has a new dream, the dream of being a model. “Becoming a model only came into my mind after coming to America, “ he says. “I realized while watching TV, videos and looking at magazines that I did not see models with any type of disability. I want to be that person that steps up and changes the culture of the modeling industry. I want to model because I want to show the world that a young man who has lost most of his upper limbs can still be considered as a professional model on TV, in newspapers, magazines or anywhere else. I want Calvin Klein, Nike, Adidas, American Eagle, Macy’s, J.C. Penney or any other company with a product to sell to know that they can accept and feel confident that a person who is missing limbs can still sell their products successfully.”
Thanks to Garden of Dreams Foundation, Ngawang was able to put together a modeling portfolio, which the pictures in this post come from. Garden of Dreams reached out to GLAM4GOOD with the hope we could platform these pictures and help Ngawang get a step closer to achieving a successful modeling career. “I want to one day find myself as a professional model walking the runways in New York City, Paris, London or anywhere else they need me,” he says. GLAM4GOOD is honored to post Ngawang’s story and pictures and happy make connections for anyone that is interested in working with Ngawang.
Ultimately, Ngawang hopes to serve as an inspiration to young people. “I would like other kids going through tough situations to know that there will always be an angel that will come into your life to help you through your struggles and most importantly you should never give up because life moves on. These setbacks will help make you a stronger human being, mentally and spiritually. God will always look after you no matter what you have gone through and believe that,” he says. “I want to know that whatever comes your way in life whether good or bad, ugly or sad, to never give up, stay strong and consider yourself just as important as any other human being. Know that the sun will always rise.”
Photographer: Rana Faure
Creative Consultant: Kim Strother
Stylist: Lynne Curtis
Grooming: Rodnei Ferby