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Dance, Music Program Helps Cambodia's Street Kids Break Isolation

Cambodian children participate in the Tiny Toones dance program in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has thousands of children living on the streets. They come from poor homes or broken families or no families at all. They are at risk of drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and other dangers. They have little access to education and little notion of how their lives might be better. But one local organization, Tiny Toones, is seeking to change that. Tiny Toones uses the appeal of breakdancing and hip-hop music to bring children off the streets and into the classroom.

A Phnom Penh secondary school becomes a dance studio for a day.

Hearing impaired youth learn a few steps from the dancers of "Tiny Toones", an organization that normally works to educate street children.

This particular workshop is part of a diverse arts festival held in early August in Phnom Penh.

The dancers learn basic steps and breakdancing techniques. It's the same method Tiny Toones uses to bring children in off the streets -- and then teach them the dangers of HIV, drug use, and other perils of the street life.

Sarom Sarah has been a member of Tiny Toones for six years. He says the organization, which was started by a Cambodian-American named KK, changed his life. "I used to be a gangster, fighting on the streets, but KK advised me and then after about a week of considering, I had decided to change. I called him and asked him where the dancing training place is. Then, I started training with him and he thought I could change. He helps those people who wanted to change as I did," he said.

Dancing has a way of bringing people together. Yim Mary, who works for an NGO helping the disabled in Kampot province, says art and dancing help her overcome her hearing disability. "I think art is continuing to help me because I can earn some money from it. And it can help me communicate with other people, although I'm deaf. I can communicate by means of body movement or writing," Yim Mary said.

Tiny Toones uses the universal appeal of dancing to reach kids who don't trust many people.

They come for the hip-hop, but they learn English, computers and other skills. The group started when KK, whose given name is Tuy Sobil, arrived in Cambodia in 2004. "We started off with like nine kids, and that's all I wanted to help was nine kids. Now we have 7,000 to 8,000 kids.... Most of these kids think that because they grew up in a poor area, they just see themselves working in factories or karaoke bars. That's all they have in mind. But that's not true. They can become such bigger things than that....

KK hopes more people in Cambodia will become involved in cleaning up the streets. He says its important to let street kids know that people do care.... and do want them to change.

This report was narrated by Brian Allen.