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Drama and dance turning Cambodian kids' lives around
Kate Arnott reports on the efforts of the Tiny Toones

Phnom Penh is home to some of the roughest and poorest neighbourhoods in the world. But rising out of the hopelessness is an organisation called Tiny Toones, which helps under privileged Cambodian kids turn their lives around with drama, dance and education.

Kate Arnott spent time with some of the Tiny Toones on a recent Australian tour.
KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: It's their infectious energy and inspirational stories that make these Cambodian teenagers the star attractions wherever they go.


KATE ARNOTT: Only a few years ago travelling overseas to perform in their own show seemed impossible.

UNIDENTIFIED PERFORMER 2: Hello. We are Tiny Toones. We are from Cambodia. Now we are heading for Australia. We are coming. See you soon!

KATE ARNOTT: They came to Australia with Melbourne social worker, Romi Grossberg, who helped raise $30,000 for the trip. She's a volunteer at the Tiny Toones organisation in Phnom Penh.

ROMI GROSSBERG, TINY TOONES MANAGEMENT ADVISOR: Without Tiny Toones, they may not be alive today or they may they be back on the streets doing drugs.

CHOMRERN VY, 'BEAVER', TINY TOONES PERFORMER: Tiny Toones turned me from the bad kid to the good kid.

KATE ARNOTT: The performers tell their stories using the dance, rap and music skills they learn at Tiny Toones. It's a chance to let go of the past and express their hopes and dreams.

(Footage of performers dancing)

Participants at Tiny Toones range from 4 to 25-years-old. They often come from broken homes, gangs, prostitution or lives scarred by drug and alcohol abuse.

The organisation welcomes anyone who walks through the door. Three thousand people did last year alone.

As well as dance and music, they learn computer skills, English and Khmer, also HIV, drug and sex education.

ROMI GROSSBERG: It's much more than just dance and music. We use those things as a tool for empowering people. And when you come to Tiny Toones you can actually really see that that is what is going on. You've got people that had no confidence when they arrived and are now oozing confidence and that allows them to go back to school and feel they can complete school.

KATE ARNOTT: Tiny Toones was founded by Tuy Sobil, nicknamed KK, a Cambodian born in a Thai refugee camp after his family fled the persecution of the Khmer Rouge.

His early years were spent in Los Angeles, where he became a champion break dancer. But gang life and stints in prison saw him deported to Cambodia in 2004.

Determined to improve his life, KK took street kids under his wing and taught them to break dance in his home.

(Footage of Chomrern Vy "Beaver" performing)

Nineteen-year-old Chomrern Vy, nicknamed Beaver, can't believe how much his life has transformed.

CHOMRERN VY (Translation): After I got to know Tiny Toones and KK I, have change add lot. Tiny Toones has taught me the value of life. I became a rap artist and travelled overseas to places like Singapore, Thailand and Melbourne.

KEO SREYLEAK, 'DIAMOND', TINY TOONES PERFORMER (Translation): after I became a good dancer, Tiny Toones gave me the job to pass on my skills to other kids.

Tiny Toones also sent me to study more about children's rights and human rights, which I knew nothing about.

KATE ARNOTT: 25-year-old Keo Sreyleak, or Diamond, grew up in a poor and broken family. She dropped out of school in grade four to sell chickens at the market. Her life changed dramatically when she was introduced to KK in 2005.

KEO SREYLEAK (Translation): Diamond is the name given to me by KK because I'm the first woman in Cambodia to become a break dancer. The diamond is considered to be precious and rare.

KATE ARNOTT: With the ever increasing help from aid agencies, Tiny Toones is growing every day.

The main centre in Phnom Penh now has several classrooms, a computer lab, a recording studio and open space for dancing. As well, outreach teams visit slum areas to provide free education and counselling.

ROMI GROSSBERG: Everybody that comes in there, whether they're staff or students, are such inspiring people. For me it's been a really exciting place to be where you can actually see people grow and heal themselves and move on with their lives.

(Performers taking a bow)
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