It started with nine street kids with no future and a Cambodian man who nearly messed up his. The 10-year journey of Tuy “Kay Kay” Sobil and the hip-hop children of Tiny Toones is certainly an inspiring one. To mark its 10th anniversary, the centre is preparing to host a huge hip-hop party on Saturday.
Tiny Toones uses hip-hop training and education to reach underprivileged children, helping them to avoid gangs, drugs and crime. In its 10-year existence, Tiny Toones has helped more than 15,000 children get an education and find gainful employment.
“This centre receives more than 100 students a day. Eighty percent of its students, many of whom had dropped out of school or had never been to one, return to public school."
“Ninety-six percent have gone on to meaningful employment, thousands have successfully stayed away from drugs and crime, and many have become celebrated rappers, dancers and artists shaping Cambodia’s creative culture,” says a Tiny Toones report.
Sobil, who founded Tiny Toones, says: “When we opened our first community centre 10 years ago, my biggest hope was that maybe one kid might make it and do something big.
“Now I look at that first generation of kids and see famous musicians, successful businesspeople and teachers. Seeing so many perform this Saturday will be more than I could have imagined.”
While Tiny Toones is open to all children, the vast majority of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The organisation offers a core education program – with a focus on Khmer and English language studies and mathematics – alongside hip-hop and dance classes.
Tiny Toones General Manager Choeun Shhort Reuth says: “It wasn’t hard to get boys to join, but it did take some time to persuade the parents of girls to allow their daughters to do so as they didn’t want them to learn dance due to cultural concerns. What paved the way for girls to join was the fact that we offered much more than just dancing.”
Rapping star Sang Sok Serey, a former Tiny Toones student and former rapping news presenter for The Post, says she has reached a level of stardom that would otherwise have been unimaginable without the group.
“I don’t know what I would have done without Tiny Toones. The centre has helped me find my talent. Tiny Toones helps kids who are hungry for education but cannot pay."
“They even bring them from far-off areas. The kids have space to learn what they need to. It’s so good for them, and I would like to see them supported much more in the future. I hope this event will help achieve that,” Sok Serey says.
Sobil explains that it was his disappointment with the wasted opportunities in his life that inspired him to start the hip-hop centre.
“I was given so many opportunities in life after I moved to America. I had free education and good parents. It was my own fault that I messed it up and hung out with the wrong crowd."
“Then when I was deported to Cambodia I saw that these kids had nothing . . . not even the good start I had. Everyone used to tell me that I wouldn’t amount to anything, so what chance did they have?” Sobil asked.
Sobil was born at a refugee camp in Thailand that was set up for those fleeing the civil war in Cambodia. From the camps, he and his family settled in Long Beach, California, in the US.
“It became my dream to be like a big brother. I wanted to help them cross the street, get to the other side of childhood without falling into the same problems I did.
“You know, when I was a kid I just wanted success and money. But I got over that. Now I want my own kids and those at Tiny Toones to be successful,” he says.
Sobil stressed that “in the future I want Tiny Toones to have a bigger and better facility so we can open our doors to the whole community and train all the kids who need an education, love and support. I want to help more kids get to the other side.
“Even when we are all gone, I hope Tiny Toones might still exist in some way. I hope education will be better in Cambodia by then, but even so, I’d still want us to support kids experiencing hard times. I’d want us to be big brothers and sisters . . . it’s the most important reason we are here.”
Tiny Toones’s 10th-anniversary party will be held at the Factory Phnom Penh, along National Road 2, on Saturday from 12pm to 6pm.
It will feature dance and hip-hop performances from such artists as Sok Serey, KlapYaHandz, 12me, Kreative Kings, Kikki Nikki, Khmer Thorsue, DJ Cake, DJ Niko Yu, DJ Jay, DJ Shadow, DJ B-Roc and the Kbach Crew. There will also be a live graffiti show. The event is free and open to the public.