Westminster Choir College senior Ashante Taylorcox works to end human trafficking around the world.

Ashante Taylorcox with teachers and students at the Soksan International School in Cambodia where she volunteered in December.

Peace. Freedom. Happiness.  So many of us take these basic human rights for granted.  Ashante Taylorcox knows that for many people - especially women - peace, freedom and happiness are only distant dreams.

A senior music education major at Westminster Choir College, Ashante is committed to helping women make those dreams come true.  “I want to be an agent for change,” she says, “and work to end human trafficking around the world.”  As the survivor of sexual exploitation and rape as a child, she has a personal connection with the women and children who have endured situations that are unimaginable to many.  She has volunteered her time and talent to domestic and international organizations devoted to empowering women, which has also helped her to heal from her own abusive experiences.

For the past two years Ashante has led several initiatives to increase student awareness of the issue of human trafficking.  The 2011 “Day of Change” included interactive programs and displays and the screening of the film Gardens of the Night; which focused on kidnapping, child abuse, and trafficking,; followed by a discussion.   The 2012 RAINN Week, linked to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.  The program, which focused on preventing sexual assault on college campuses, included speakers from a local women’s shelter and representatives from Rider’s Counseling Center.

Last December Ashante traveled to Cambodia to volunteer for the Cambodian Kids Foundation, a non-political, not-for-profit organization working to empower the people of Cambodia through sustainable programs starting at the grass roots level. 

During her time there, she taught music in the Soksan International School, and worked with the young girls and the women of the community to develop and implement a Stranger Danger/Anti Trafficking Policy and Program for the school.  She also had the opportunity to visit the Somaly Mam Foundation, the renowned organization established by trafficking survivor and activist Somaly Mam, which is dedicated to the vision of a world where women and children are safe from slavery.

“I was absolutely inspired, touched and moved,” Ashante says about her three weeks in Cambodia. Sam Cooper, founder and president of the Cambodian Kids Foundation, wrote about her work, “Ashante’s motivation and generosity is outstanding and simply a breath of fresh air.  We want Ashante back over with us very soon!”

Last March Ashante joined Mexican student Ana Lilia Aparicio in representing the Half the Sky Movement and to screen the film and host a discussion about Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in Panama City as part of the Leadership exChange Program “Women as Agents of Change.”  The program, which was sponsored by the University of Monterrey Mexico and the United Nations Information Centre Panama, brought together 14 women from Mexico, Peru, Ireland and the United States for the intensive academic program centered on women as agents of change in promoting gender equality.

At Westminster and Rider, Ashante has established The Akun Project.  Taking its name from the Khmer word for thank you, The Akun Project is a student organization focused on developing global leaders of tomorrow. Its mission is to establish creative and sustainable programs on campus that raise awareness about global issues affecting our world today.

On Friday, November 8, The Akun Project will host a “Dance to Make a Difference” Dance-A-Thon from 7 p.m. until midnight in the Cavalla Room on Rider University’s Lawrenceville campus.  Proceeds will benefit the Cambodian Kids Foundation and the Somaly Mam Foundation.  Tickets, available at the door, are $15 for students and $20 for non-students.  Teams are welcome, and they can register at www.goo.gl/G3Fgqd

Ashante will student teach at Parkway Elementary School in Trenton next semester, and she expects to graduate in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in music education.  Upon graduation she hopes to move to Cambodia to work and develop a non-profit organization that helps rehabilitate survivors of sex trafficking through music. 

“I want to use of my musical skills, passion, and hard work ethic to create healing and beautiful music with the individuals around me,” she says. “Doing the work that I do allows me to not only help others around me but it gets me one step closer to being free within myself, being still, and being whole again.”