Ray Umashankar has given up quite a lot to make the world a better place for Indian girls and women, but the 73-year-old wouldn't have it any other way.
He quit his assistant dean position at the University of Arizona in 2013 (and stopped watching television, too) to focus on growing the impact of his organization -- Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology (ASSET) India Foundation -- TakePart reported.
The group is responsible for educating hundreds of women and children who've been affected by the sex trade industry in India, and, more recently, making sanitary pads available to girls so they can stay in school.
The foundation -- which started as an idea of Umashankar's daughter, Nita Umashankar -- teaches English and computer skills to adult children of women who've been in the sex industry and young adults rescued from trafficking, according to the organization.
Nita, an assistant professor at Georgia State University, told her parents about the damaging effects of the sex trade industry in India upon returning from the country -- the initial step in how ASSET came to be nearly a decade ago.
Human trafficking is a major problem in India. A 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report from the Department of State estimated that 20 to 65 million Indian citizens were subjected to forced labor conditions, and that "sex trafficking of women and girls within the country is widespread."
The training through ASSET gives survivors a leg up in the job market and helps them overcome the taboo some employers may associate with their pasts. Since its inception, more than 600 girls who've benefited from ASSET's services in computer centers across India have gained employment in part due to the organization's training.
ASSET works with Indian nonprofits that are engaged with the sex worker community to connect with those who could use the group's help.
Beyond helping trafficking survivors, ASSET is also helping girls continue their education. Umashankar is partnering with a low-cost sanitary pad provider so more children have access to the product, TakePart reported.
In India, a lack of accessibility to feminine hygiene products and understanding serves as a major hinderance on girls' education and economic potential. According to Wash United -- the group behind Menstrual Hygiene Day -- girls stay home from school in many regions of the developing world because they don't have sanitary pads or their school may lack the proper facilities for them to stay clean while menstruating.
“I looked into why they stopped going to school,” Umashankar told TakePart. “I asked the girls, and the girls were very bashful, and then I asked the social workers, the teachers. In rural India, when the girls start menstruating, they use dirty rags, and they get sick, and out of embarrassment, they stop going to school. Providing proper sanitary napkins, making them available, that’s going to keep them in school.”
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