April 26th, 2012 | By dave
Tiny beginnings, big dreams by Hannah Spyksma
Fifty dollars – that’s a few hours work for most or if you’re lucky it’s a small part of your daily earnings.
But eight years ago breakdancer Tuy Sobil – better known as KK – couldn’t even land a job that paid him $50 a month.
Life hasn’t been easy for the ex-gangster who was booted back to Cambodia from the West Coast of the United States in 2004.
He’s touring Auckland this week with his dance crew Tiny Toones and reflects on an eventful past.
“You know, you get sent back to a place that you don’t know nothing about and you’re just trying to move on with life after losing your whole family, your kids – it was a struggle,” KK says.
He gave up a life of crime long before the authorities sent him home on a technicality, returning him to the country his family had fled from as refugees of the Khmer Rouge regime.
But KK struggled to find a job when he moved back to Phnom Penh and so volunteering as a youth worker was his best option.
Later that year a group of street children started pestering him about breakdancing and he was hesitant.
He’d given up dancing at the age of 13 when a rebellious lifestyle kicked off in Los Angeles.
The idea of getting back into it brought back memories he would rather forget.
But KK eventually gave in to their persistence which proved a turning point.
Since 2005 he’s helped thousands of Cambodian youth, some who came from worse backgrounds than his own, get a fair shot at life.
What started with nine children learning a few moves in his cramped lounge room has developed into an entrepreneurial adventure.
Through his non-profit organisation Tiny Toones, KK teaches breakdance, hip-hop, English, computing and life skills to youth in Cambodia’s capital.
“I’m trying to show the kids that there’s other ways to be cool rather than being a gang member or pimping girls or selling drugs,” he says.
“You could be you know, more unique by other ways – like a dancing kid, or a DJ or a rapper, man there’s a lot of ways you could be cool.
“You don’t have to fit in because you’re not from a gang and all that.”
Taken by JASON OXENHAM
Cue Blockhouse Bay resident Lisa Ho. In 2008 the second-generation Cambodian-Kiwi went to visit the country that was also her parents’ home before they moved to New Zealand.
While in Phnom Penh she stumbled across an article about Tiny Toones and decided to investigate.
Her two-week trip turned into a year-long visit where she worked to develop the organisational structure of the group.
Ms Ho has has been fundraising for the past three years to bring 13 members on a New Zealand tour.
This week her hard work paid off with KK and the crew visiting schools around Auckland.
They are ending the week with an all ages hip-hop, breakdance and theatrical concert at Auckland Girls Grammar School on Friday evening.
Miss Ho says the 90-minute performance brings a universal message that young Kiwis can identify with.
“No matter where you’ve come from, no matter how poor you are, what background you have, what mistakes you have made in the past, you still have the ability to make positive choices going forward,” she says.
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