Tuy Sobil, who goes by KK, was born in a Thai refugee camp as a result of the Khmer Rouge Genocide during the mid to late 1970s. KK spent most of his childhood and teenage years growing up in the projects of Los Angeles, USA. Unfortunately, like many other immigrants struggling to survive with limited resources and support (let alone having to overcome PTSD and trauma), KK got involved in gangs and convicted at the age of 18. The saying "aing jong tvuh gang, eh?" translates to "do you want to join a gang, eh?" is a common question that Khmer parents pose to their children because of how frequently it happens and impacts the Cambodian diaspora. Now with a criminal record, KK got sentenced to Cambodia and was forced to leave behind his life to go to a place that he has never known.
KK was a former breakdancer back in the states. Forced to live in a third world country after growing up in a first world country was an eye-opening experience. He saw many homeless kids without shelter and the basic necessities and living in the slums. These kids got involved in drugs and crime. Not wanting them to continue down this hopeless path, he opened up his home to these kids even though he had a small home. He started teaching them break-dancing and hip hop culture. Word got out and more kids started showing up. That's when he launched Tiny Toones, a charity with a vision for all youth in Cambodia and beyond to live a healthy life free of HIV and drugs, to realize their full potential through educational and creative opportunities, and to pursue their dreams and become positive leaders of tomorrow.
On December of 2007, I've had the opportunity to visit KK and Tiny Toones during a study abroad program through the University of Washington School of Social Work. I was inspired by KK's compassion and commitment to ensure the safety, health and well-being of children in need. Over 100 children from the slums go to Tiny Toones every day to dance, make music, practice English and Khmer, learn computing, and enjoy the freedom to be children. Although faced with new adversities in a new country, KK chose to live a life of purpose, love and compassion.
Today, Tiny Toones is a safe place for children to learn, be creative, and develop a positive sense of identity and community. We want to commend KK for having such a big heart and paying it forward through using his talents and creativity to save so many kids' lives and help them have a brighter future.
If you would like to learn more, visit www.tinytoones.org. Tiny Toones is a registered charity in Cambodia and receive no statutory funding, relying wholly on donations. If you are interested in making a donation, visit the link here.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about KK's story and how Tiny Toones has made a positive impact on the at-risk youth in Cambodia.
2nd Generation Cambodian American
2019 UW Sociology Alumna