A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hip Hop Revisited

‘Tiny Toonz’. I looked at the name first and though of a kindergarten. But I was wrong, gladly. Tiny Toonz is the name of a hip hop dance group which a young guy, nickname KK, real name, unknown, who has been running in Phnom Penh. I was really impressed by KK, not only with his dance moves, but also the positive choices he is making to transform his own life, and help out others along the way. Here is a section of an email I wrote home about KK, but ultimately about making the choice to change situations.

Last night I went out to a hip hop dance practice in Phnom Penh. There was a group of about 20 kids and a young guy, KK, who was their trainer, all gathered in an upstairs room of KK’s home to work on their moves. I watched the practice for about an hour- the kids were incredible, twisting and contorting in magical ways, working hard to improve. KK had set up the group as a way to give the kids a focus, keep them off the streets. From the outset looking in, it was cool, funky, all positive, the kids looking like a bunch of innocent kids. But chatting to KK later, about his own background and about some of the challenges of working with the kids, it was not all so clear cut. The kids themselves are from mixed backgrounds. Many come from broken homes. Some are orphans. Some are HIV+. Some come from abusive settings. They are learning to dance out their frustrations on the dance floor, but they don’t necessarily leave them behind;. There have been fights, arguments, stealing equipment, not turning up for practices, letting the group down. The older kids get paid to go an teach other communities how to dance. But they don’t always show up, or they are not always motivated. KK himself has a chequered background. At 29 he looks hardened and streetwise. We didn’t go into too much detail, but when he was 6 months his family moved to California, and he grew up there, learning hip hop, and getting heavily tattooed along the way (he has an incredible tattoo of Angkor Wat on his back). But somethings happened (not sure what) and he was deported from the States three years ago- sent ‘back’ to Cambodia.

This is some silly US law, which is a strike once and you are out. Apparently there are many deportees in Cambodia now, people who veered off the so called straight path in the states, were not given a chance and were kicked out of the country. Many have landed in Cambodia with no jobs, no family, drug habits and no support.
KK landed in Phnom Penh alone and jobless. But rather than sitting around and falling further, he made a choice. To create his own life again here. To build networks, contacts, and to start dancing again. He started volunteering with a local NGO, worked for 7 months without pay, then eventually got a paid position as drugs and HIV outreach worker. When he comes home from work at 6, he starts dance practice with the kids. He has built relationships for the kids, and has become a role model for them. He has even taken 5 of them on as his own- kids who are orphans, or where home is too unsafe. They stay with him and he helps them with school fees.

So this is someone that was kicked out of the States because he wasn’t making a positive contribution to society? KK is no puritan cookie, nor are the kids. But they try. They are making choices day by day to improve their lot. It’s people at risk working to help each other out. KK doesn’t claim to have the answers for these kids, he doesn’t claim that dance will be their redemption or their solution, but he does know that they are talented, they love to dance, and at least for the hours they are in the room, they are safe. It’s not everything but it is something better than nothing. He knows he may not be the ideal role model, but he willing to give it a try and take on the responsibility. This is something I really admire. It’s all about choice.


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