Wittenberg student organizations American International Association (AIA) and the Hispanic Culture Club (HCC) are teaming up to host a second annual fashion show fundraiser, this year titled "The Khmer Fashion Show" at 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, in the university's Center Dining Room (CDR) in the Benham-Pence Student Center. Proceeds from the show will directly benefit the Trailblazer Foundation, an American-based non-profit organization that assists in building sustainable rural infrastructures for Cambodian people.
"I'm really excited," said AIA President Melissa Cederqvist, class of 2010 from Huskvarna, Sweden. "Everyone working on it is really excited about it. They're putting a lot of work into it and are looking forward to doing it."
Started last year by AIA member Philomina Darko, class of 2010 from Columbus, Ohio, the first show benefited the "Invisible Children of Uganda" fund, which aids young victims forced to become "child soldiers" and sex slaves. This year, AIA member and first generation Cambodian-American Sopheap Khun, class of 2010 from Columbus, Ohio, inspired the Wittenberg organizations to direct their efforts further east to help the war-torn nation of Cambodia.
"Last year I went on a summer study abroad in Cambodia," Khun said. "I went to learn about my history and where I'm from. I got more than I bargained for."
Khun learned how her mother survived four years of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which began when she was 13 years old. Educated members of the population were tortured and executed. By the time the 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge forces into the countryside, almost two million victims of a population of seven million died from execution, forced hardships or starvation. Khun's own mother was forced to work in a communal rice field patrolled by child soldiers, going days without food and water.
In 1999, the remaining elements of the Khmer Rouge surrendered, and political stability returned to the nation. The Cambodian economy is growing slowly and surely, but Khun is determined to be part of the rebuilding process.
"There are no educated people in Cambodia right now, no people who know how to build, how to teach," Khun said. "There's nobody there to teach them how anymore. We need to help give money to help them start what they need to start."
The money raised in the fashion show will be used to attain water wells and filtration systems for Cambodia's agricultural economy. Note cards and calendars from the Trailblazer Foundation will be sold at the event to help raise funds. The calendars depict Cambodian children drawing pictures with crayons in school.
"The children literally started crying because they didn't know what to do with it [crayon]," Khun said. "They had never seen a crayon in their lives."
Members of Wittenberg's AIA and HCC are determined to help Cambodia's recovery process. Students, faculty and staff members alike have turned the fashion show fund-raiser into a campus-wide event by agreeing to strut their stuff for the cause. From Greek members to musicians and faculty to CDR staff, models will walk the runways sporting everything from spring styles to international outfits.
"I wanted to get a good representation of the campus body so that all their friends would come out and [show their] support," Darko said. "I want to raise as much money as possible to really make an impact for this cause."
Tickets are available at the Benham-Pence Student Center and through AIA and HCC members. Limited admission will also be provided at the door. The student organizations are hopeful attendees will make additional contributions to the foundation at the event.
"Whatever we can get can makes a big difference," Khun said. "People there literally live on 50 cents a day."
Written By: Christi Lue '09
Photo By: John Strawn
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