Rider dances its way to a better Cambodia

Rider students participated in the Dance-a-Thon, hosted by The Akun Project, which helped raise $1,100. The Akun Project is a student organization that looks to help raise awareness of global issues.

By Casey Gale
During her freshman year of college, Ashante Taylorcox decided to begin doing charity work to help those who had experienced sexual exploitation and rape, just as she had as a child. After three years, and trips to Cambodia and Panama, Taylorcox, a Piscataway, N.J., native, now leads her own charitable organization.

Rider students raised $1,100 for the Cambodian Kids Foundation and the Somaly Mam Foundation when they participated in the Nov. 8 Dance-a-Thon, hosted by Taylorcox’s Akun Project.

The Akun Project, created last February by the senior music education major, takes its name from the Khmer word meaning “thank you.” The organization looks to raise awareness of global issues and cultivate leaders through creative and sustainable activities on campus.

“I spread awareness about the issues of human trafficking and sex trafficking through various programs on campus that engage students and get them critically thinking about a world bigger than us,” Taylorcox said. “As well, I share my story so that my peers don’t just think, ‘Hey, this doesn’t matter. This doesn’t happen here.’”

Taylorcox, also an advocate for awareness of global poverty, maternal mortality and gender-based violence, said that her past charity efforts inspired her to organize the event.

“I came up with the idea of the Dance-a-Thon last December while in Cambodia working with the Cambodian Kids Foundation,” Taylorcox said. “After my [Cambodian Kids Foundation] benefit concert last year, I really wanted to put on another large fundraiser to support the organizations that I love.”

A large portion of the event was dedicated to making students from both the Lawrenceville and Westminster Choir College (WCC) communities conscious of several serious global problems.

Taylorcox has led initiatives to spread student awareness of human trafficking for the past two years. Day of Change in 2011 featured interactive programs and a showing of, and discussion about, Gardens of the Night, a film about kidnapping, child abuse and human trafficking. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) week in 2012 focused on preventing sexual assault on college campuses.

The Dance-a-Thon, which lasted five hours, gave a prize to the dancer who could keep moving the longest. Participants not only raised money for the two foundations, but also joined in various activities to benefit the children of Cambodia.
“Giving people the opportunity to decorate shoes, shirts and bookmarks for the children in Cambodia was a great way to really engage everyone who attended,” said Anne Sears, director of WCC External Affairs. “All of the volunteers should be proud of supporting such a worthwhile program.”

The goal for the Dance-a-Thon was to show that even the smallest contribution could make a difference.

“I would like the Rider community to understand that no matter what, they can make a change,” Taylorcox said. “They can be a part of the larger community to help change this world, no matter how small or large their contribution. Issues like sex trafficking, global poverty, maternal mortality and gender-based violence aren’t just international issues; they are happening right here, right now. We, as a community, can help stop it.”

Additional reporting by Jenni Chiarello

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