UA administrator's retirement: Fighting sex trafficking in India

2013-03-09T00:00:00Z UA administrator's retirement: Fighting sex trafficking in IndiaDrew McCullough For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A UA engineering administrator is retiring to devote his full energy to a nonprofit organization his family started to help victims of sex trafficking in India get jobs.

Ray Umashankar, the dean and director of UA's multicultural engineering program, plans to retire in May to focus on being the executive director of his family's nonprofit organization, the ASSET India Foundation.

The foundation teaches rescued victims of sex trafficking and the children of sex workers the necessary English and computer skills to get an entry level job at a call center or a software company in India. ASSET stands for Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology.

Umashankar's daughter, Nita Umashankar, identified the need for ASSET in 2006 after working with young, abused women in India. She said her time spent there showed the effects of the underground sex trade on these young women and their lives, and she wanted to make a difference.

There are many ways young women end up in the sex trade, Ray Umashankar said.

"These girls have many times been kidnapped, abducted or they are brought into this trade by deceit," Umashankar said. Often times, they are sold into the trade by their fathers, who have been promised by a pimp or a broker that their daughters will marry a rich man and live a better life.

When Nita Umashankar returned from India, she presented her thoughts to her father and he told her that he'd help establish the foundation. Ray and Nita Umashankar began contacting other nonprofit organizations in India that specialize in finding and rescuing victims of sex trafficking. They now work with these other organizations to provide training for the young women.

Since it began in 2007, ASSET would not have grown so quickly without the help of her father, Nita Umashankar said.

"I have absolutely loved working at UA and I will miss it terribly," Ray Umashankar said. The need for help in India, however, "is so great that I need to spend every available minute on this work."

Since 2007, ASSET has provided its six- to nine-month training program to more than 600 young women and placed them in jobs; another 400 have decided to go on to higher education. It currently operates training centers in Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Forbes-Gunj and trains approximately 400 women total at a time.

On average, it costs ASSET $100 per student per month. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations for these training programs comes from private foundations, grant and individuals. Nita Umashankar said that she never imagined ASSET growing so quickly.

ASSET's growth and success would not have been possible without the help of its partners, Ray Umashankar said.

Empowerment is the greatest thing that ASSET provides, according to Nita Umashankar. "Even if (the young women) don't finish the training," she said, "they know they can get an education and the program benefits them - it gives them confidence."

The young women who are in need of training are found by one of ASSET's Indian partners. If there are girls who need help but live too far from the training centers, ASSET provides transportation.

The foundation targets high schoolers who are 16 to 18 years old. Once the young women are rescued by one of ASSET's Indian partners, they are placed in a government-run high school, which is where they are found by ASSET.

The foundation allows students to be enrolled in the training program for as much time as they need in order to be ready and confident to get an entry-level job in India. The variation is because of the poor quality of instruction in high schools in certain states, according to Ray Umashankar.

ASSET mainly targets young women because there are more opportunities for men in India. The legal employability age in India is 16.

In addition to teaching the girls basic English and information technology skills, ASSET also teaches the girls basic workplace guidelines and how to take care of themselves.

"We teach them time management, dressing for success, how to survive in the workplace and how to set up a savings account," Ray Umashankar said. "We also teach them personal hygiene, HIV/AIDS prevention and how to keep themselves presentable.

"We want to remove all obstacles that will prevent them from being successful," he said.

Drew McCullough is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at 573-4117 or at starapprentice@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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