DJ Nana: A Shining Light to Freedom
Cambodian social media celebrity Sovathana Neang, more popularly known as DJ Nana, walks into the room, and immediately lights it up. She shimmers in her modest choice of clothes and her unassuming makeup. Her smile exudes warmth and friendliness and her every word and gesture radiate confidence. She’s luminous like the star that she is.
Just like the light from the stars that travels light-years through space to reach one’s eyes, DJ Nana journeyed a long way before achieving her status as a social media icon.
Shortly after finishing high school, Nana joined the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), a German liberal organization, as a project assistant. Whenever she attended activities locally or abroad, she would be among the youngest participants, but she was never intimidated by the crowd. In fact, she always shone because she was outspoken, and charming, too!
“She could be the next prime minister of Cambodia,” was a comment she frequently got from colleagues.
As a liberal Foundation, FNF promotes individual freedom – the absence of restraint to make decisions for one’s self. Young as she was, Nana lived out this value and pushed herself to embrace every opportunity given her. “I was with FNF for five years, and here I learned to express myself, that it’s okay to have a different opinion,” shared Nana. The right to freedom of expression has become Nana’s gateway to success.
Armed with confidence and a thoughtful perspective ingrained in her during her years at the FNF, she took on hosting a counseling radio show in 2009. That was when she adopted the name DJ Nana. She received phone-in questions mostly about love and relationships, family and friendships.
How a 22-year-old could provide credible answers to these issues was dazing, but DJ Nana said that all she had to do was speak her mind. When topics shifted to sex, violence, and employment, DJ Nana offered unconventional advice: exercise your freedom. “Women are expected to behave in a certain way. Children are demanded to obey certain rules. If we can fight for what we want in a way that still respects the law and that does not offend another person’s freedom, then go for it,” were DJ Nana’s words of encouragement.
“Before we go into a discussion of social, political, or economic freedom, we should look at personal freedoms that affect us on a daily basis. This perspective has influenced my own life, and this is what I try to impart to others,” she explained.
Over one million followers
The rise of social media enabled DJ Nana to reach out to and engage with more people. From using her mobile phone to experiment with video blogs, she now has a professional crew that produces her social media content. Her Facebook pages DJ Nana TV and DJ Nana Tips each has over 600,000 followers, or a combined online following of over one million.
Cambodia currently has 12.5 million internet users, with seven million registered on Facebook. DJ Nana capitalizes on this. She enjoys internet freedom, understanding that it comes with responsibility. “Entertainment and education may be different spheres, but I try as much as possible to provide content that offers both,” she pointed out.
She opines that content is king, but sometimes the medium is also the message. “One can produce brilliant content, but if no one is watching then it’s useless. I discuss topics that people can relate to, and these provoke debates. The comment section on my pages is very active. I respond to these messages myself because I value the connection with my fans,” she disclosed.
DJ Nana also admitted that being prime minister was not just a label tagged to her by colleagues, but it was her personal dream, too. “I always wanted to initiate change, and then I realized that power does not come only through political gates. I can help transform lives by sharing information and voicing out my opinion,” she said.
‘Owner of the Future’
As a freelance who manages her own schedule, DJ Nana makes sure that she leaves time for development work, which was where she started. She is an ambassador for Plan International and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), promoting rights for women and young girls.
From hosting FNF events when she was project assistant, DJ Nana has become a sought-after professional emcee in Cambodia. She looks back with gratitude to her experience in the Foundation. “Khim Sophanna saw through my talkativeness, and gave me my first break as a presenter more than a decade ago,” recalled DJ Nana.
Sophanna is the project manager of FNF Cambodia who only had good words to say about DJ Nana. “She’s a self-made, empowered young woman who always strives to do more, and reach her full potential,” described Sophanna. “Her radio show back then was entitled Owner of the Future – that’s certainly who she is. What spelled her success was her authenticity. Her strong character is not a pretense for the camera,” he observed.
But DJ Nana also has a soft core.
In one Facebook post, she shared a video of how she surprised her mother with a new house, a product of her hard work. Her mother was seen crying, overwhelmed with happiness.
When she visited the FNF Office in Phnom Penh, she happily reminisced her time as project assistant, identifying the items that she personally bought in 2006 that were still there, like the cabinets and even the hole punch! She was proud of how she labeled the folders that remained on the shelves. These have withstood the passage of time.
On the road while stuck in traffic, she was switching between screens on her mobile phone – responding to comments on her Facebook pages, and sending voice mails to friends.
Why do stars shine? For DJ Nana, it’s because of intense love – for the people around her, for her work, and for freedom.
DJ Nana is an alumna of FNF’s International Academy for Leadership (IAF) that offers training programs in Germany. DJ Nana still attends IAF alumni gatherings in Cambodia, and considers the group her family. While FNF has recently closed its office in Cambodia, it intends to keep its IAF alumni network active.
DJ Nana’s Freedom Journey is part of FNF Regional Office Southeast & East Asia’s feature series ‘60 Years Diaries’ to celebrate its 60 Years.