Defying The Odds
Life comes with its share of hurdles. If truth be told, these hurdles will either leave long lasting injuries or short-term wounds. Yet, nothing cripples a person more, than allowing these hurdles to prevent them from achieving the greatest things life has in store. In the spirit of pursuing your dreams regardless of the obstacle life throws, meet Michael Fiifi Darko Abrokwah, a 23-year-old Pencil Artist, living with Radial Longitudinal Deficiency.
Radial Longitudinal Deficiency also known as Radial Club Hand is a deformity that affects the forearm and hand. This condition is a present-at-birth deformity that causes the wrist to bend towards the direction a person ulnar. It is characterized by the underdevelopment or the absence of the radial bone in the forearm. Such is the condition Michael lives with. Regardless, he has spent a significant portion of his life, pursuing a career in Art.
Michael Fiifi Abrokwah, the 23-year-old artist engaged in the creation of paintings at his workspace.
Like all of us, his life began at conception. Mrs. Christiana Acquah, the mother of Michael, gave birth to him at 7 months after conception. At the time of his birth, there were shortages of incubators at the Hospital Michael was born. He therefore had to share the available incubator with another newborn baby. After three months, the Hospital discharged baby Michael. It was all joy and happiness for Mrs. Acquah upon hearing her baby will finally be handed over to her. She could not wait to present her baby to her extended family who were all prepared to welcome Michael. “I was surprised to see Michael. He did not look like an ordinary baby. The size of his head was unusual. I learnt this condition, Macrocephaly, is a leading cause of preterm birth. But as time passed, I felt sad” Linda Acquah, Michael’s elder sister, said.
She added, “I did not understand why my brother should live with this condition”.
To treat Macrocephaly, the present-at-birth condition where babies develop a larger than normal head, Baby Michael had to undergo a Shunt Surgery.
“I thought it was a normal trait in newborn babies, I didn’t think it was going to be a deformity” –his mom said as she described the events that led to his deformity.
What is this trait she is talking about? The clenching of her son’s fist. A trait that is indeed a primitive reflex found in newborn babies. A reflex that is meant to last for three months but with Michael, it lasted for a year. “I slowly massaged his hands in an attempt to unclench his fist. His left fist responded but I can’t say the same for his right”. Mrs. Acquah added “I did my best, did everything I could, visited one health facility after another but to no avail. A medical practitioner advised that I send him abroad for further treatment but considering everything, I decided to do what I was supposed to: Raise My Son”.
Michael Fiifi Abrokwah with his family. To his right is his mother, Mrs. Christiana Acquah, while on his left stands his older sibling, Linda Acquah.
A year and six months after his birth, Michael was enrolled in Great Academy Basic School located in Accra – Ghana, to begin his education journey. His first struggle was with keeping the right posture when writing with his left hand. Mom was persistent in teaching him how to maintain the right posture but that did not alleviate Michael’s struggles to fit in.
Society was still ignorant when it came down to receiving children living with disabilities. “I believe this created his inferiority complex. To help him get over it, we all came to the conclusion that, Michael should be the only one among us to have a birthday party. Each year we would throw him a party on his birthday, so he gets to socialize with people who wants to be around him. People other than his family. We realized this small gesture was working when we heard Michael had joined the choir at our church.” – Linda added.
It was during this time that Mrs. Acquah noticed Michael’s sparking interest in Art. Growing up, Michael would gather some clay and make sculptures out of it. Initially, his mom saw it as a nuisance because there was so much trash left over. But, after careful observation and confirmation from Michael’s primary school tutors, she knew that her son had a natural talent for Art. “I found it very difficult to grasp the basic knowledge and understanding for subjects like Math and Science. For Art, it felt like a natural language. Amongst all the courses in school, subjects pertaining to Creative Art was and still is my favorite” – Michael stated.
That being the case, Michael was enrolled in Apostle Safo School of Arts and Sciences to pursue Visual Arts in high school, after successfully completing his Basic Education Certificate Examination in 2017. Michael saw the school’s advertisement on television. He was quite taken by the Visual Arts department that he decided to enroll.
“I was more than happy to grant my son this request.” – His mother added.
Being an actively involved mother, Mrs. Acquah inquired from his teachers, her son’s academic performance. Michael’s performance was unbelievable and his mum as part of encouraging him, paid for after-school tuition just so Michael could advance his knowledge and skillset in Art. At this time, Michael decided to perceive Art, not just as a hobby, but as a career field he would pursue in the long-term.
Michael Fiifi Abrokwah, engaged in the creation of painting.
When he arrived at this decision, he got greeted with a lot of discouragement. He disliked the outcomes of his sketch and had thoughts of quitting.
“I spoke to a colleague about it. He, together with my family urged me to stay on this path regardless of how I felt in the moment”. When he maintained the course, Michael felt the shift from feeling discouraged to feeling optimistic. He dedicated his time, effort and attention to learning all that he could so he can be the best at his trade.
After completing High School in 2020, Michael chose to enroll in an I.T Training institution that offered a one-year Graphic Design Diploma Course. During that time, Michael got introduced to the world of Digital Arts. Now, with just a smart device and Adobe Photoshop, Michael is able to produce beautiful digital arts. “Wow” – Michael said, “This is indeed the future”.
Michael’s Digital Painting of Jackie Appiah, a renowned Ghanaian Actress, and His Excellency John Agyekum Kuffour, The Former Ghanaian President.
Today, Michael is apprenticing under Theo Pencil Art, an artistic business venture located at the Achimota Mall. He accepted the offer to apprentice under Mr. Sammy Boateng and has been his student for two (2) years. Mr. Sammy Boateng is a Professional Artist with over Thirty-Seven (37) years of experience. He began by producing sketches that was used as signpost for small businesses.
Throughout his professional journey he has had the opportunity of training young professionals to make a living out of this trade. One of these young professionals is his son, who had the opportunity to live abroad to expand his network and skillset. Before leaving for Canada, Mr. Boateng’s son established “Theo Pencil Art”.
“I met Michael through his mother. She told me of her son’s passion for Art and I agreed to be his mentor. He has been apprenticing for two (2) years” – Mr. Boateng said.
He describes Michael as dutiful; “He lives at Amasaman, a community far from here. Journeying from his home to the workplace takes him close to 2 hours by road.” Mr. Boateng added that “Even though nine (9) is his reporting time, Michael gets to work as early as 7:30 am. He makes sure the place is clean and prepares the studio for the day’s work”.
Michael Fiifi Abrokwah with his boss, Mr. Sammy Boateng.
A secretary at his workplace, Ms. Nana Ama added, “I would encourage Michael to keep up with his can-do spirit. It will indeed take him far”. She commended the speed at which he is able to complete one pencil sketch.
“It was slow progress when he began with us. But as he got exposed to the demanding nature of customers, he picked up the pace.” his secretary described.
Now, it takes Michael close to five days to begin and complete his art. He has been able to show and sell 4 pieces of digital arts and 2 pieces of pencil arts.
Michael Fiifi Abrokwah with the Secretary of Theo pencil Art, Ms. Nana Ama.
Aside mastering Pencil Arts, Michael dreams of pursuing other avenues such as Live Sketching, Face Painting and rekindling his passion for sculpting. He is also trying to successfully break into the world of digital arts. He believes doing this would diversify his skillset to not just meet the demands of the African based customers but to expand internationally. For now, he is relishing in his calling to being a student of his trade.