Intelligence on the Move: Phnom Penh’s Hip Hop Lesson

Annual Tiny Toones Leadership Retreat

Intelligence on the Move: Phnom Penh’s Hip Hop Lesson

Written by Amanda Martin and Samnang Pak, 2014 Southeast Asia Cities & Sanctuaries Program Leaders. 

Welcome to Phnom Penh! Home sweet home. Samnang and I have been living in Phnom Penh for the last three years. Naturally, we were extremely stoked to be sharing our home with our new crew of backpacktivists who are no longer participants but friends.

Cyclos in Phnom Penh

Getting around on cyclos in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, is changing. There is construction at every intersection, buildings popping up all over the place, and a new restaurant every week. The city and the country are changing at a rapid pace, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Nevertheless, the pounding jack hammers and buzzing traffic still strikes a beautiful balance with the saffron and orange robed monks walking mindfully down the street, the noodle soup stands on every corner, and the lively community spaces teeming with life as soon as the sweltering sun begins to subside. The soccer matches begin, the badminton rackets come out, and the ladies get their groove on with a giant aerobics class by the dancing fountains of light and water.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

During the Khmer Rouge Regime, they tried to eliminate all the educated Cambodians who could threaten the regime’s control or influence the population with their capitalistic and western values. The genocide left Cambodia with a very young, traumatized, and uneducated population to rebuild the country. Learning about these atrocities by visiting the Killing Fields and the notorious S21 Prison, famed for its torture and barbarism, left the group reeling with disbelief. Disbelief at the horrors mankind is capable of, but also in disbelief at how warm and welcoming the people of Cambodia continue to be as they move forward in rebuilding their country. Since education, art, music, dance, and culture were some of the main targets to be destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, we made them our main targets to support as a group.

Tiny Toones - Operation Groundswell

Tiny Toones – Operation Groundswell…a dream team!

We kicked off our stay in Phnom Penh by going to see a traditional Khmer dance combined with modern interpretive dance at one of the country’s oldest theatres. We rode cyclos (a bicycle throne?) through the streets, supporting one of Cambodia’s oldest forms of transportation. We supported the social business Romdeng where they work at providing vocational training for marginalized youth, while revamping and bringing back the lost culinary zest of Khmer food, including the local delicacy of tarantulas. Some of us were brave enough to try these crispy critters, while others could not get past the hairy legs. We took dance lessons from B-Boys and Girls at Tiny Toones. We ran workshops at an international school on structural oppression and celebrated a graduation or two as well. We watched movies at community movie houses and viewed private screenings of Oscar nominated film “The Missing Picture”, a must see for anyone interested in learning more about Cambodia’s story. We shopped, danced, partied, barbequed, learned… we did a lot!

By far the highlight of our time in Phnom Penh was getting to meet our next partner! Tiny Toones is a non-profit organization that acts as a drop-in centre for marginalized street youth. Tiny Toones get kids off the streets and back into the classroom by luring them in with art, breaking, hip hop, and music. Many of the staff have overcome major hurtles in their own lives making them view Tiny Toones as their family and their students as the next generation of that ever growing family. After getting a peek at the centre and the classes offered we headed down to the beach for our annual OG-TT Staff Retreat. KK, the founder of Tiny Toones, shared his world with us and we came away from our fourth OG-TT retreat with our eyes opened a little wider with awe and our mind’s opened permanently. The retreat is an opportunity to reboot, realign, relax, and reconnect with one another away from the stresses of the day to day at the centre.

Today, hip-hop is often confused with gold teeth, gangstas, guns, girls and money. In actuality, “hip” means being aware, in the know, or enlightened and “hop” means the movement. In other words, hip-hop is an intelligent movement brought on to promote knowledge, expression and change. There are five elements of hip-hop: the fifth and least known being knowledge. From what we saw, the youth of Cambodia are taking knowledge, in its many forms, back after years of it being stolen from them. They are pushing out the negativity of the past and reclaiming their future.

There is no time to dwell in the past. There is only the future to move towards and the present to enjoy. This country is hip, hop, happening with the next generation! And nobody could have taught us that so completely and entirely than the inspirational staff of Tiny Toones.

Next up is our Independent Travel Time where everyone will be taking off to explore the region solo!

Until next time,
2014 Southeast Asia Cities and Sanctuaries Crew

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