Despite having spent more than two decades lying on his stomach on a wheeled cart almost constantly, musician Brak Sophanna, 30, has never been one to spend much time at rest. He prefers to stay busy writing songs, helping with charitable causes and inspiring hope in everyone he meets.
For more than twenty years Sophanna has struggled with his disability. He is entirely dependent on his customised wheeled cart to get around, which makes mundane things like typical household chores or most regular employment difficult for him to do.
Sophanna’s special talent is sharing hope with others through his music. He writes uplifting songs and performs them as well as giving music lessons to children and participating in charitable work to assist the elderly.
Sophanna is the third of four children in his family. He was orphaned at the age of eight along with his siblings due to his parent’s tragic deaths during a robbery.
At age 10 or so, Sophanna’s life took an even darker turn. He fell ill and his legs became paralysed, leaving him unable to walk.
“Back in 2000, I started to get sick. I had a high fever and a doctor in Battambang told me that I had a spinal cord problem that affected my legs,” Sophanna says.
Due to his health problems, he was forced to drop out school in the fifth grade. After the death of his parents, he was placed in the care of foster parents from Thailand for a while before he was sent to the Nehemiah Orphanage in Siem Reap.
Sophanna recalls “I only studied until the fifth grade because I was often sick. And it was difficult to ride on a wheelchair back and forth to school from home over such a long distance. So I had to drop out.”
Sophanna admits that there were times when he felt hopeless and disappointed in life. He says that for a time in Siem Reap, he was the only person he knew with a disability and the isolation devastated him.
When he was younger he would dream about life as a “normal” person and being able to study and hang out with friends with ease like most kids, but those dreams felt like a smack in the face a few moments later when he would have to wake up and face reality.
However, things began to change for him when he went to stay for two years at the disability centre run by the organisation Handicap at Battambang.
While there, his eyes were opened when he met many other disabled people – some with far more serious or tougher conditions than he was dealing with – and began to understand that life as a disabled person had just as much potential for happiness, fufilment and achievement as anyone else’s.
“I realised that actually in this world there are many people who are going through what I’ve been through. I started to pull myself together and refresh my mind so that I could move on. I wanted to work on myself to be productive and live a valuable life for me and the people surrounding me.
“Never again do I want to go back to where I was, being passive and just living life from day to day. I am no longer allowing my disability to limit my potential. I refuse to live and die uselessly without helping others,” Sophanna says.
With a natural born talent in music, Sophanna is now an original composer who sings and plays guitar as well as a music teacher.
He saves what he earns daily to help people who are in tougher situations than he is.
“From giving music lessons and singing in the market in Siem Reap, I have been able to earn some money. I have set aside some income for charitable purposes. I’ve gotten some from generous people as well as from my godfather, who has always encouraged me to continue doing this work,” Sophanna says.
Unfortunately, during the Covid crisis and lockdowns, he could not go out and earn anything, so he instead stayed home and raised chickens and grew plants in his garden to make a living.
He had to temporarily stop his charity work as well, but with a firm commitment that when everything is back to normal he would resume that too.
Sophanna’s life experiences have given him the ability to compose songs that are uniquely encouraging and inspiring to others. When he sings about going through hard times or overcoming obstacles there’s an authenticity and sincerity to it that he brings because he really has been there and done that himself.
One of Sophanna’s songs is called “Failure is a Lesson,” and he says it’s something he figured out throughout the course of his own life. He says he used to think he was a loser and that everything he would do would be unsuccessful.
This wasn’t an unreasonable line of thought given that he was orphaned at age 8, disabled at age 10 and then forced to quit school shortly thereafter. That’s a rough start for anyone to overcome.
The turning point for Sophanna was the realisation that whatever he’s been through, no matter how hard, still had value because it was a life lesson that he could learn from as he worked towards greater success in the days ahead of him.
“Failure is a Lesson” is one of ten original songs that Sophanna has now recorded and released. He is now increasingly being recognised for his music and he has set-up a home recording studio to continue to work on new compositions.
Eventually, in 2015 Sophanna decided to leave the disability centre, saying that “I wanted to learn living independently. I want to live my own life and strive hard to be able to make it on my own.”
Whether living at the disability centre or living on his own in the world, he has always done volunteer work for various organisations like The Global Child, helping to take care of children and offering a helping hand with their English and music lessons.
Sophanna says that he has been inspired and uplifted to keep working hard on his goals because he is a Christian. He says his faith and the words of the Bible have shown him the way forward.
“I want to encourage everyone – whether they are disabled or they are addicted to drugs or maybe just depressed – anyone who thinks their life is valueless, please take a look at me. I can’t even sit or stand up, but I still have enough hope to keep on living. I know you do too. There will be days you feel disappointed but don’t let that determine your future. Get up and get on with your lives,” Sophanna says.