A Cambodian skater’s remarkable journey
Tin’s fight from adversity to role model
20 November is Universal Children’s Day. On this occasion we feature Tin’s story, a passionate skateboarder and trainer who also strives to end violence against children in Cambodia.
Tin watches with anticipation as her 15-year-old student Dalin attempts a new trick. She cheers excitedly when Dalin nails it. When Tin, 22, joined the youth leadership program of the NGO Skateistan three years ago, she had never even stepped on a skateboard. She was quickly hooked. In addition to her training, Tin practiced skateboarding every day and taught herself by watching YouTube videos.
She was soon working as a teacher for the organization. “Teaching is really exciting. Before I was a student — now I’m a teacher and my students look up to me.” Many of the children Tin teaches come from Phnom Penh’s most disadvantaged and marginalized communities. “When I see them I look back to my past which was sad also. I want to give them skills to grow their lives.”
Tin’s face lights up when she talks about teaching girls. “I’m really happy to share what I know, especially with girls. They can be shy or afraid to do what they want. I want to help because I was a shy girl, afraid to go outside of my community.”
“My past is such a bad story,” Tin continues. “If I was not strong, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. I don’t want girls to be shy, afraid, lacking confidence. I want to motivate them.”
The goal of the lessons Tin teaches is to use skateboarding as a tool for the education and empowerment of children and young people. After every one hour skateboarding session, Tin leads an hour of arts education. Her class is full of energy and enthusiasm.
Thanks to her work as a young leader, Tin was put forward to join UNICEF’s Youth Representative Group. These 20 adolescents and young people are taking part in the development of the Cambodian Government’s action plan to combat violence against children. They are ensuring that the perspectives of children and young people are heard and reflected in the action plan.
Tin has very personal reasons for her commitment to ending violence against children.
“I was born to a poor family with violence also. My father used to drink every day. My mum, sister and brother all got violence from my father. I was very young when the violence started. I wanted to run away from home, but if I leave I put my mum in trouble.”
Tin is convinced of the importance of involving young people in tackling violence against children. “Youth have many great ideas, but don’t always have a chance to share. We can also share with our communities, villages, families — what violence is and why it must stop.”
Tin has come a long way since her troubled childhood. Under the name ‘Gitin’, she is the confident and charismatic presenter of a daily radio show. Every lunchtime she rides her motorbike for 20 minutes through the dusty backstreets of Phnom Penh to reach the studios of Sky Radio.
With her co-presenter DJ Nano, she enjoys chatting to callers and playing the songs they request. They laugh a lot — it’s a fun and light-hearted show. “I want people around me to be happy. I want to show my skill to them. I always want to learn something new!”
Tin still skateboards every day — during breaks, after work and at the weekend. She recalls what it was like as a girl first learning to skate. “Some guys looked down on me because I’m a girl and I couldn’t skate like them. After they said something to me, I cried on the way home. I almost gave up. Then I set my goal to improve their minds.”
“I wanted them to stop looking down on me. I practiced every day to get better, even though my lip bled and I hurt my ankle. What they said hurt, but it inspired me to get better.”
“Now I can skate better than them and they look up to me. Now they call me ‘teacher’. Skating feels fantastic and it really helped me a lot — to build trust with people, to build confidence and make a lot of friends.”
Three years after first picking up a skateboard, Tin is now the best female skateboarder in Cambodia and a positive role model for both girls and boys — not only in her sport but also as a youth leader.
Tin hopes that in the future Cambodian children will be safe from violence. “I hope that violence goes down and down until it stops. I don’t want any violence against kids. I don’t want violence to be a barrier to their future.”
She also has some words of advice for young people in Cambodia who want to make a difference to their country.
“When we want to do something it starts at the first floor, from the ground up. Don’t be afraid or shy to do what you want to do! You have to fight to show what you have. Problems always have solutions — don’t give up!”
Written by Sam Waller