Sak Sokthy, a young man who was born with a disability, dropped out of school in the 7th grade when he was 19 years old in 2019 because he had no way to travel to school on his own after a friend who used to bring him there each day dropped out of school himself first.
“I quit school because of travel issues. My friend I used to go with quit school first. Then I tried to study to be a TV technician, but I couldn’t break into this career so I turned to studying how to repair motorcycles,” Sokthy said.
The young man was born with the condition phocomelia. A genetic disorder, sufferers are unable to bend their wrist joints, their palms are paralyzed and they have fewer fingers on their hands, while both of their legs are shortened and further apart from each other so they need assistance with walking or mobility.
Sokthy is the youngest son in a farming family with a total of nine siblings living in Prasat commune of Preah Netr Preah district in Banteay Meanchey province.
“No different from other beginning students, when I studied how to repair motorcycles I was blamed by the head mechanic for passing him the wrong wrenches or forgetting to put the screws back into the engine and so forth. Mistakes are part of learning.
“I fully acknowledge that I face additional challenges in my work that others do not, but despite that I have stuck with the motorcycle repair career. I knew that I could do it and now I have proven that I can do it. Every day I have a lot of work to do now except when we have very bad weather that disturbs everyone’s business,” he told The Post.
When Chhun Lim got a flat on his motorcycle recently he wheeled it over to the closest roadside repair shop and was briefly surprised when he met the owner and mechanic who immediately set to work on his bike.
Sokthy asked Lim to park his motorcycle and he began to pull out his tools to pry off the inner tube as the motorcycle owner sat and waited on a bench nearby.
The 23-year-old motorcycle owner said he could see that the disabled mechanic was skilled and worked as hard as other able-bodied mechanics.
“Don’t judge the book by its cover, as they say, focus on the results of the work they do to guide you,” the customer said.
Lim – who it turned out has worked as a vehicle mechanic himself – was impressed by the work ethic and skills of Sokthy.
“He does a good job. He says he can even repair engines. But I can see that it’s harder for him to go up and down the block to the market to buy things, for instance,” he said.
Due to his limited budget to buy inventory stock of spare parts, Sokthy has to buy the parts from other stalls to make repairs for customers depending on who shows up that day.
“If there are many spare parts for sale, I can earn from 30,000 riel to 50,000 riel a day. But I have to spend some of that income to buy the spare parts I use from others,” he said.
Hard work for happier life
When his eight siblings each got married in turn and started their own families, Sokthy became determined to increase his efforts at earning money to support himself and his elderly mother.
The young man – who likes to post his work activities on both his Facebook and TikTok accounts – said that he is not upset today about his stunted limbs and body and instead just works harder than the able-bodied people in order to make a decent living, but without any bitterness.
“I just look forward to continue working hard to earn a living so that I can support my elderly mother at home because my siblings are all married and live away from her. My brothers and sisters help as much as they can, but I’m the man of the house there now,” he said.
When asked if he wanted to find a wife someday, Sokthy replied hesitantly that “I am worried about raising children if I can’t give them a better life, but I won’t deny that I do think about it from time to time.”
Ironically, though Sokthy can provide expert repair services to other motorcycle riders, he is unable to drive a standard motorcycle himself and he cannot yet afford to buy a tricycle-style motorcycle at this point, though he says he’s tested out driving them and knows he can manage it.
Video clips of Sokthy repairing motorcycles have been widely shared and commented upon on Facebook, with most people expressing sympathy and appreciation for the struggles he has overcome in life and his strong work ethic.
Because of the viral videos, Sokthy has gotten some help from local philanthropists who found his story inspiring.
“Three generous people have helped me with buying some spare parts to work with and it has helped me a lot,” he said.
Having seen a video clip of Sokthy repairing a motorcycle but lacking all of the standard equipment, Piseth posted on Facebook expressing his willingness to donate a set of wrenches and some other tools for repairing motorcycles to him.
“Please brother with the disability who is the motorbike mechanic, contact me at this number and I will help with wrenches and other tools,” he offered in a comment.
In addition to repairing motorcycles, Sokthy can also repair some electronics and household items such as fans and stoves.
The young man said that even though repairing motorcycles was sometimes difficult and demanding, he would not give up and go around begging others for money.
“When we earn money without work we spend it too easily and if we just beg others for money it is shameful,” he said. “I cannot.”
Help from on high?
Although Sokthy is disabled and lives in poverty he has not yet received any support from the authorities.
Khun Vuthy, Director of the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in Banteay Meanchey province, said that all people with disabilities usually receive social assistance payments and other support from the government.
“For people with disabilities, we register them for government assistance and out of an estimated 14,000 disabled people nationally we have around 10,000 people on the list for assistance across the country.
“Based on what you’ve told me, the social protection department will prepare to help [Sokthy] in accordance with the Royal Government’s policy,” Vuthy said.
According to Vuthy, in addition to the disabled, more than 30,000 poor families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are receiving monthly government subsidies including families with pregnant women and children under the age of two, which is also implemented by the Department of Social Affairs.
Vuthy stated that people with disabilities can receive both a disability ID and qualify for an IDPoor card.
He said that he will visit Sokthy to see if he is registered with the department and he will expedite the process in order to provide Sokthy his department’s assistance.
However, what Sokthy most wants is his motorcycle repair shop to be full of equipment and stocked with spare parts so he can go on providing services to his customers.
“Today, I can only repair motorbikes but if I can expand I will learn to repair cars and anything else people want fixed. I know I will succeed if I can get the opportunity,” he said.