People often blame their current life situations and limitations as the reason they can’t follow their dreams. However, those perceived problems are really just excuses that keep people from fulfilling their goals.
One father from Cambodia is living proof that nothing can keep you from accomplishing your dream after he continues to overcome incredible obstacles to fulfill his dream of building a working airplane.
Just over 30 years ago, Paen Long was born in a small village in the Svay Rieng province of Cambodia, which is near the eastern border of the country that is shared with Vietnam. Long’s parents worked as rice farmers to support him and his five siblings.
Long grew up in the years where the entire country was trying but struggling to move on from the devastation that was caused by the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime that wanted to create a peasant farming society. Almost two million people, or about a quarter of the country’s population, were killed in just four years during the genocide.
Struggling to Bounce Back
One of the groups of people who had been targeted by the regime were professionals, anyone who was educated, had studied or worked in another country, or anyone who could speak other languages. As a result, the country struggled to bounce back after the regime fell since most skilled or educated professionals, like doctors, teachers, and lawyers, had been murdered.
Long’s First Job
So when Long was a boy, he and most other children in the country faced a life of labor in either agriculture, fisheries, or forestry, which are the industries a majority of the population work in. For Long, that labor started when he was just seven years old.
Long needed to make money to help support his family, so at seven years old, he started working as a cattle herder at his neighbor’s farm. Shortly after he started working herding the cows, Long saw an accident where a helicopter fell out of the sky.
A Life-Changing Moment
“Many people went to see it [the crash site] and they felt scared, but for me, I was not scared,” Long told Al Jazeera about the helicopter crash. According to Long, seeing the flying machine just made him feel happy and hopeful. After that day, Long’s life was completely changed.
The Obsession Begins
According to Long, that was the day he became obsessed with flying machines and it was also the day he knew he was going to build his own plane one day. Over the next few years, Long continued to work herding cattle but never gave up on his dream.
A Drop Out
“I always dreamt about aircraft every night. I always wanted to have my own plane,” Long told the BBC. By the time Long was 12 years old, he dropped out of school and moved to a different village with a cousin so that he could learn to be a mechanic.
The Next Best Thing
According to Long, continuing school to get a higher education to become an engineer wasn’t possible. For Long, training to be a mechanic was the closest he could get to his passion and preferred profession and one of the only non-farming jobs available to those without a high school education.
Building a Life
During that time, Long learned to read and write. A few years later, Long established his own mechanic business, got married, and had a baby with his wife, Hing Mouy Heng. During that time, he still never gave up on his mission. Two years later, Long finally told Heng about his lifelong dream of building his own plane.
A Natural Reaction
At first, Heng tried to stop Long from following his dream as she was afraid of how dangerous it was. “I didn’t allow him to do it. Later on, he still kept insisting. It’s his dream since he was young. So, I allowed him to follow his dream,” Heng told Al Jazeera. “He promised me that he would not let it threaten his life.”
The Research Begins
After telling his wife about his plan, Long began saving money from his successful mechanic shop and started doing as much research as he could into airplanes. According to Long, he decided to focus his efforts on building an airplane as he believed a helicopter would be too complicated to make.
“In the beginning, I typed in the word ‘jet,'” Long said regarding videos he would watch on YouTube about everything from flight simulations, landing, take off, and even the factories where aircrafts are made. “I started building a plane, making it in secret.”
A Secret Project
Long based his design plans on a WWII Japanese plane and used mostly recycled materials as he built his small one-seater plane. “I was afraid that people would make fun of me, so sometimes I worked at night,” Long added. During construction, Long relied almost entirely on YouTube videos to teach him.
Long’s Past Life
“Even though I don’t understand the language, I can see and guess what they mean and how they do it, since I am a mechanic, therefore, I can easily understand the working process,” said Long. However, Long claims he has another source of knowledge for building his plane. Long, who is Buddhist, believes in reincarnation. According to Long, he thinks he was a Muslim man in a past life who knew the technology used to build airplanes. “I used to know [how to build planes],” Long said. “[So] I can know it now.”
A Crazy Hobby
Since spending most of his free time building his plane, Long has become known throughout the area for his unusual goal. “They talked behind my back and people came to tell me this. Sometimes, my tears fell because of this. But I still didn’t give up,” Long said about everyone’s reaction.
The First Test
Last year, when Long was 30 years old, he tested out his third model ahead of schedule after a year working on it and after spending $18,000 on his project. Long planned to test it the following month but moved up the test date after a production company asked to film and feature him in their telecom advertisement. “I felt that I may not be able to control it or that there were some technical problems, but I told myself, ‘I must test it, if I don’t test it, I won’t know.'”
So during the test, Long committed to seeing if the plane could fly in front of a camera and hundreds of locals who came out to see the moment. During the test, Long managed to take off but lost control and crashed the plane into a pond on the side of the road. Long was humiliated and devastated but still refused to give up.
Never Giving Up
Long believes the plane was too heavy, so he has focused his efforts on building a seaplane as it’s lighter and will be less dangerous to test. His wife, however, has tried to convince Long to stop as she fears it’s still too dangerous. “I don’t know how planes work and he doesn’t have any experts to help him,” she said. “I tried to ask him to stop a few times because I’m afraid, but he said he won’t cause any danger, so I have to go along with his idea.”
Accepting His Fate
However, Long isn’t afraid of the risks and hopes to manufacture planes in Cambodia if he doesn’t die while testing his planes. “There shouldn’t be any fear around the topic of dying because it is inevitable. I’ve already made up my mind. I’ve already made up my mind about dying in a plane crash,” he said. “What’s important is that I finish my dream.”