KOTA KINABALU: Many children idolise the superhero Spiderman. Francis Xavier Kinjin was one of them.
Dreams of power, and graceful, effortless movement appeal to all kids, but for this particular boy, visions of swinging through the air on gossamer threads were especially appealing and very far away from his earthbound reality.
For this boy was born with no legs.
Now 35, Francis, a native Kadazandusun from Penampang near Kota Kinabalu, admits he is still not quite Spiderman but in the superhero’s words, he does what he can to “look out for the little guys” in his community, especially the physically disabled aka Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU).
“I can’t exactly crawl up walls or shoot webs out of my fingers but I can fight for the rights of OKU people,” he told FMT.
Francis knows all too well the hardships of being disabled but he has never seen his plight as an excuse to throw in the towel.
“I want to inspire disabled people by showing them that nothing is impossible if we put our minds to it,” he said.
He maintains that OKU people should not dwell too much on what they cannot do.
“Otherwise, you won’t go anywhere. We should focus on what we do have, and that is will-power. With hard work and some good luck, we can succeed no matter how disadvantaged we are.”
Besides being an activist for disabled people, Francis is also an entrepreneur, craftsman, and philanthropist.
While he may not be able to swing through the streets of Penampang, he is an accomplished paralympic athlete.
In 2016, he represented Sabah at swimming in the Sukma Games Paralympiad in Sarawak, and then in powerlifting in Perak last year.
Recalling his youth, he said his peers used to tease him about his missing legs.
“That’s normal for kids, but I’ll be honest: I would challenge them to a fight when they made fun of me. I told them, ‘I don’t care if you have legs, bring it on!’”
“I’ve never seen myself as lacking something although I’m an OKU. Even when my friends played football, I played along with them.”
As an adult, this determination has seen him doing various jobs including welder, mechanic, cook and carpenter.
He credits his uncle for his carpentry skills. “I knew my way around carpentry tools from an early age as hammers and nails were the only toys I had.”
His interest in business started when he was a cook in a cafe. His employer liked his work ethic so much that he chose him to hold the keys to the business and gave him other responsibilities. That experience taught him important small-business skills like book keeping.
“I enjoyed the responsibility of opening and closing the shop, and counting the money. After a while, I told my boss I wanted to leave and open my own business.
“At first he didn’t want to let me go,” Francis said.
“But then he even offered to give me start-up capital for my business but I declined because he had already helped me a lot.
“So with just RM80, I sold groceries but didn’t make a profit for months.”
He still runs the small sundry shop from his house. As well as groceries, he sells furniture that he crafts himself, mostly from PVC pipes. He also repairs wheelchairs, often for free.
All his business activities earned him an entrepreneurship award from Chief Minister Shafie Apdal.
He tries to be a positive influence on other OKUs, particularly those dealing with the shock of being newly disabled.
Military Lorin, 34, told FMT he almost gave up on living after losing the use of both legs in a car accident in 2011. But he found a new lease of life thanks to Francis.
“After the accident I felt I would never again be of any use, but when I saw Francis being so full of life, I was immediately inspired. I became close to him and he gave me a lot of advice and encouragement.
“He always told me if someone born without legs can do it, why not me?” he said, acknowledging that one of Francis’ strengths is making people believe in themselves once more.
After being sure he would never work again, Military is now doing clerical work for the navy.
He also learned to customise his car so he could drive it, learning from Francis who had modified his own motorcycle. He has also taken up swimming.
Francis volunteers as part of disaster relief work in Penampang which suffers repeated flooding.
As a result, he received an award from the Sabah governor for his voluntary work, making him the first physically disabled person in the state to receive the accolade.
When he was a schoolboy, public awareness of the challenges for the physically disabled was poor.
“When I was in Form 1, my classroom was on the fourth floor, and so I appealed to my school to transfer me to a ground floor room but was ignored.
“Going up and down the stairs didn’t bother me but when it rained, my clothes would get wet and dirty. Finally, I had enough and left school at 15.
“Looking back, I don’t regret leaving. Of course it’s usually better to stay at school but I left because I wanted to make a statement.”
Awareness is better now, he says, but there are still many improvements needed for the disabled especially in schools.
“And that is exactly what I will always fight for.”
Like all children must, Francis grew up to understand that he would never be Spiderman. Effortless agility would forever be beyond him. But he was not going to be helpless.
He was determined his handicap would not stop him becoming a successful athlete and entrepreneur.
And, probably most satisfying, he can still play a part in making his corner of the world a better place just by looking out for the little guys when trouble strikes.