Dancing Through Development: Leaders in a New Lens

Hmmmmmm…. How do we write up the coolest experience ever in South East Asia?? Well, it should start with two words – Tiny Toones! Fifty of us piled into a bus and headed to the beach town of Sihanoukville. This was Tiny Toones’ first leadership retreat, their first holiday, their first time to the ocean, the first time their staff went away together, the first time climbing a mountain.  It was the first time to hang out with a crew of crazy foreigners from a group called OG!

Tiny Toones is a drop-in centre for youth in Phnom Penh. Targeting the most marginalized kids in the city, they provide a drug-free zone for kids to make change. The majority of their staff started as youth who dropped-in to visit to center. Once students, they are now teachers passing on their mad skills and experience.

A group of intelligent, passionate and engaged individuals, the Tiny Toones crew is eager for change and opportunities. Many of them shared pasts living as street kids, coming from broken families, histories of violence and alcohol and drug addiction.  Despite this, these guys (and girls!) are on the move.  A notion of paying it forward became apparent throughout our time together. Even more surprising were the similarities that shone through, despite those obvious differences!

Held on Otres beach, the retreat was comprised of amazing food, endless leadership and team building games and incredibly engaging discussions.  All involved learnt form one another.  Name games, soccer games, hikes up mountains, sand castles, fishing, a jet ski, tuk tuk adventures, chants, swimming in waterfalls, delicious meals, karaoke, heart-felt discussions ending in tears, all nighters on the beach and a serious dance party characterized our time together! The Tiny Toones gang never hiked up a mountain so they viewed the hike as the biggest team building experience of the trip. To their credit and ours, it was a killer jungle hike! Forty-five people hiked up a narrow path while Tarzan and Indian calls echoed throughout the jungle, trumped only by the warnings of leeches, fire ants and spikey trees! We started the hike together, finished the hike together and helped one another all along the way.

Despite a short time together, a somber mood spread over our whole crew when we had to say our goodbyes. Tight relationships were quickly and genuinely formed, and lessons on both sides were learned.  Change and development does not always come in the form of a water tank or school supplies. Sometimes it is as simple as showing a group of passionate people that you believe in them. And we do…we believe in each and everyone one of the members of Tiny Toones!!

Following the retreat, the OG crew spent two days on the beautiful island of Koh Rong, just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  The size of Hong Kong with only a few hundred inhabitants, Koh Rong is one of the last untouched gems in the South East Asian region.  With white sandy beaches, palm trees, roaming water buffalos, a few huts on the beach, islands in the distance, a small fishing village and a lush mountain as the backdrop, beautiful is an understatement.  Upon arrival, several people jumped onto a boat for some scuba diving while the rest of the crew slept the day away, recovering from our last night enjoying the company of Tiny Toones. Regardless, the entire OG crew crashed early after  a dinner by candlelight!

Despite it being our first day of Independent Travel Time (ITT), everyone woke up early and stuck it out for one more project!  In cooperation with the dive shop on the island, a home painting project was coordinated for the villagers.  In order to draw more attention to the businesses and give the island a friendlier vibe, we beautified 10 homes! Skeptical at first, the villagers thought that we were a corporation trying to take advantage of the pristine island – developers have been trying to take over the island for years. But after our Khmer friend explained who we are, suddenly far more people became interested in the face-lift. Yellow, blue, turquoise, and green houses scattered the beachfront…it was a wicked project to end out time together!

After a treacherous boat ride back to the mainland, ITT has officially begun! Everyone is reluctantly yet excitedly headed in different directions until we reunite on Koh Phagnan. Cora and Matt are off to Malaysia to tackle the rainforest. Keila, Kylie, Rob and Jess are headed to the sunny beaches of Thailand for some bikini time. Sidney is off on a solo mission to explore more of Thailand and visit his parents in Bangkok. Fiona, Katie, Marlie, Mike and Amanda are settling in Cambodia and exploring the coastline by motorbike. Last but not least is Alex who has been captured by the charm of Koh Rong. She plans to stay put, relax and do some teaching instead of a wild wander. Whatever our plans, we all reunite in less than two weeks!

Missing you all…you should probably just come here and visit, really.

Much Love,

SEA Crew