Reflections on the Tiny Toones Retreat

Written by Alexander Jewett, 2015 Southeast Asia: Cities and Sanctuaries

We really hit the ground running as we arrived in Bangkok for Orientation. Three full days packed with exploration, learning, and getting to know each other! It didn’t take long for our small group of 9 people to really hit it off. A definite highlight was visiting the NGO Sikha Asia Foundation in the slum of Klong Toey. We learned about the harsh realities of life in Bangkok’s biggest slum but, more importantly, how community members are mobilizing themselves to better the situation for youth in the area. We visited their community center, learned about their many projects, and joined their volunteers in facilitating some fun games for the kids. One noticeable feature of the cohort of children we met was that many of them were originally from Cambodia, having moved to Bangkok with their families in search of better employment opportunities. The following day, we embarked on our journey to the Kingdom of Cambodia!

Straight off a full day of travel, interrupted by a mid-day swim at a beautiful waterfall, the OG crew hopped off the bus and into our new home for the next few days: the N4 Hotel. Having spent a few days in Bangkok, the ability to organize a retreat for the Tiny Toones crew while enjoying the beach life was a great transition into Cambodia, a country new to all but our program leaders.

Our plan for the Retreat

Our time together was jam-packed. From getting lost on an 8km hike through Kep national Park to organizing a breakdancing session with a local NGO, the beach times were definitely appreciated. It didn’t take long to appreciate the pride and hope for the youth in Cambodia that each Tiny Toones member held in their hearts. I hope to keep in touch with them for years to come!

The whoooole team

In the end it was the free time after dinner each night – when we would all convene, play games, share a few drinks, and hear the TT leaders share their past lives with us – that was most rewarding. The common theme was that when most of them were just starting to settle down, their affiliation with street gangs caught up to them. Without notice, government officials would call them in and lock them up in prison or send them on boats to Cambodia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. To use these horrible experiences and separations from their families, yet be able to channel their frustrations to influence a new generation of Cambodians, who themselves are trying to turn the page from the genocide that just happened in their country, was truly a heartwarming experience. I look forward to hearing from them in the future, and to follow the future of Tiny Toones.