The ASSET India Foundation, founded by the UA's Ray Umashankar and his family, works with organizations in India to train victims of the sex trafficking industry, then helps them find jobs to help move them out of abject poverty. (Photo courtesy of ASSET India Foundation)
Ray Umashankar, an assistant dean for the College of Engineering, is co-founder and director of the ASSET India Foundation. (Photo by Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
Assistant Dean Ray Umashankar, his daughter and wife were so compelled to help the effort to end sex slavery, they formed an organization to rescue young people in India and train them for skills-based jobs.
"There is a difference when someone is going into a chosen profession.
That is not the case here at all," said Umashankar, assistant dean for the College of Engineering.
Ray Umashankar is ASSET's director.
"The mission is very, very clear, but one of the challenges is that we are dealing with a very specific segment of the population: Children who are victims of sex trafficking," Umashankar
goal has been to reach 5,000 girls and young women but a more recent priority is to ensure that 90 percent - up from the current 67 percent - of those served gain viable employment, said Ray Umashankar
"To have a true measure of our success is to measure how many of them take jobs," he
said, adding that some opt for higher education opportunities instead.
"We are trying to provide them with an income.
My dream is to provide resources to these kids so that they are on par when they get to the market," he
"It is a very, very tragic situation, and what little we can do is vital."
said other organizations teach girls in such situations how to sew or sell vegetables.
"There is nothing wrong with those professions, but those jobs do not provide the type of income that will deter them from going into the trafficking industry," he
"I am very, very excited about the partnerships we have made," said Umashankar
, who plans to spend the entire summer working in India.
feels compelled to do this work full time some day.
tells the story of Puja, a young woman he
met more than one year ago.
After Puja's mother died, her
uncle sold her
into sex slavery to a wealthy doctor, Umashankar
The young girl was raped daily until her
escape, at which point she
was picked up by a trafficker.
Puja's experience is characteristic of other girls and young women ASSET and its partner organizations work to help.
Many of them live in urban areas, others rural.
All of them experience deplorable living conditions and often have few other options by way of earning an income other than becoming prostitutes, Ray Umashankar
Puja, eventually rescued by ASSET's
partner organization, Prajwala, went through the foundation's training, has since graduated from college and is in the process of seeking admission into a business program at the graduate level.
"When I met Puja, she
told me her
computer knowledge makes her
an equal to everyone else out there," Ray Umashankar
said, adding that she
has been vocal within the organization.
The outcomes are great, but it is extremely challenging work.
Umashankar said that because training sites are located close to some of the red light districts, certain educators do not want to work with ASSET for fear that their reputations might be tarnished.
Transportation is a constant challenge.
The organization also has to be especially careful about which groups become partners.
"Money disappears fast in developing countries," Umashankar
"The key in this kind of work is finding people who are absolutely committed to the cause and who are passionate about it enough to go through brick walls," Ray Umashankar
"There are so many obstacles we have to go through to get things done," he
UA College of Engineering