From the Streets to the Classroom (and the Stage)
- By The Global Fund for Children on April 23rd, 2013
- Region: East and Southeast Asia, Featured, Success Stories
GRANTEE PARTNER: Tiny Toones
LOCATION: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Before Houch saw the break-dancers perform, his life was slowly unraveling.
Houch, then 14 years old, had been living in Battambang with his parents and six siblings, moving frequently from house to house as his family struggled to make ends meet. Some days, they would have nothing to eat, and Houch would search through trash to find food.
Most of the time, Houch roamed the streets—he had dropped out of school at a very young age, not convinced that an education could help him. Desperate to escape this life, he started stealing and sniffing glue.
Then one day, Tiny Toones, a Global Fund for Children grantee partner based in Phnom Penh, came to perform in his town. As Houch watched DJs mix on stage, and break-dancers even younger than he was spin and flip with ease and confidence, he decided it was time to take charge of his life.
Houch made his way to Phnom Penh, some 180 miles away from his town, and began attending programs at Tiny Toones. The organization uses the popularity of hip-hop among young Cambodians to reach those who are most excluded from education.
Through a combination of educational coursework and classes in the creative arts—including break-dancing, graffiti art, and sound mixing—Tiny Toones provides a safe environment where vulnerable children can build confidence and express themselves, get and education, and transition to a healthy adulthood.
Each day, about 200 children attend Tiny Toones’ nonformal education classes in Khmer, English, computers, and math. Some of the kids, like Houch, dropped out of school at an early age, while many others had never set foot inside a classroom before coming here. Tiny Toones also offers training in HIV/AIDS education and drug prevention—subjects very relevant to children who have been living and working on the streets.
The staff at Tiny Toones understands where these kids are coming from. Tiny Toones’ founder and director, Tuy Sobil, known as KK, is a former gang member and drug user who now devotes his life to transforming the lives of kids who remind him of how he used to be. Every dance instructor on staff is a former student—now they work to inspire the next generation at Tiny Toones.
“We need to show people what we can do,” says Fresh, a former student who is now a dance instructor and is going to college with support from the organization. “You’ve got to show your strength, your power.”
For Houch, showing his power meant going back to school, even though it was strange to be back in the classroom. With financial and emotional support from Tiny Toones, Houch graduated from grade 8 last year, at the age of 17. This year he is continuing in grade 9 while also volunteering at Tiny Toones, keeping an eye on the younger kids during break periods and helping out with creative classes. He has even danced on national television, and he recently travelled with Tiny Toones back to Battambang to visit his family.
Since becoming a GFC grantee in 2009, Tiny Toones has more than doubled its budget. The organization has greatly increased its organizational capacity, strengthening its leadership and staff structures and using a GFC organizational development award to improve its monitoring and evaluation systems. Tiny Toones is now focusing on enhancing its academic curriculum to make sure the organization is providing kids with the best education possible. Through its programs, the organization reaches nearly 1,000 children each year.