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TINY TOONES AND KAY KAY SOBIL: post-Covid assessment of an extraordinary human adventure

One of my greatest satisfactions when I return to Srok Khmer is to know the initiatives of the KHMERS FOR THE KHMERS. A year after my meeting in Phnom Penh with this atypical character, the Khmerican returned to the country TUY KAY KAY SOBIL – and 17 years after the opening of his school – we contacted each other to take stock of the situation.

You in a nutshell

My name is Tuy Sobil and I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Then I grew up and lived in Long Beach, California before being deported again to Cambodia. I am the founder of Tiny Toones.

Tell us about the school

Tiny Toones is an NGO located in the Sangkat Chbar Ampov district of Phnom Penh, which helps poor children to return to school. She uses the tools of hip-hop like breakdancing, learning to be a DJ and the arts in general. English and mathematics are also taught there.

What were your goals when you created this school?

The first desire was to help keep children off the streets – especially gangs and drugs – and to provide them with an education that their backgrounds do not allow them to have.

How many children do you currently have? From what age to what age?

We have around 100 children per day aged 5 to 16.

What are their profiles?

The poor in disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Phnom Penh

Are there any children that you welcome?

Yes, we currently have a few day-to-day children living at Tiny Toones 17 years after the creation, you are still there, but now you have to face more difficulties than ever.

Tell us what happened for the school during the Covid period?

Like many other organisations around the world providing social services to the most vulnerable, Tiny Toones has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, at a time when our students need support the most, our sources of funding have drastically diminished. Our funders and supporters have also felt the effects of the pandemic, and as a result our online donations and merchandise sales have seen a dramatic decline. Our opportunities for maintenance and development have also considerably diminished ‼️ we are facing our biggest challenge in 17 years of operation.

What were the consequences when it reopened?

Today we only have a few months of funds left. We definitely urgently need support to continue our work with the most-at-risk young people in Cambodia.

What has been your greatest satisfaction since the opening of this establishment?

Seeing these children return to school happy and safe

What are the main difficulties you encounter at the organisational level?

We face a significant shortage of teachers and staff, the latter (and we understand it) preferring to sign in establishments where the salary will be guaranteed; and the cash is no longer as before, we are looking for better financing.

What are your plans for improving your school?

Publicise our actions as much as possible through the community and go on a campaign to raise the maximum funds to recruit more teachers – and convince them to stay with us, and to be able to improve the reception structure as a whole.

What do you think of people watching your initiatives?

The reception has always been positive, the majority of people who know Tiny Toones have applauded the initiative from the start. However, we have often been confronted with a suspicious look from people who are not used to tattooed people, and who quickly confuse tattooing with bad company. But for all those who support us morally, we are very grateful and it motivates us even more.

How do you see your future?

I will continue – like my team – to try to be the best role model in the world for these children. However for the first time today, I have the fear that Tiny Toones can no longer function properly and that we should consider closing the doors soon.

Interview by Françoise framboise (Chantha R)

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