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    Alumna seeks relief for India sex workers with ASSET

    After a year of doing social work in India, UA alumna Nita Umashankar knew that something needed to be done about the way impoverished women were making a living there.

    To make a living, some women resorted to sexual exploitation.

    “”I saw that the most vulnerable and neglected people were underprivileged women,”” she said. “”This really hit home because my mom is an immigrant from India.””

    With the help of her father, Ray, an assistant dean of the UA’s College of Engineering, and her mother, Sue, Nita started the nonprofit ASSET India Foundation.

    ASSET, Achieving Sustainable Social Equality Through Technology, opened its first center in Chennai in October 2006 with a grant from the Sooch Foundation, a privately funded charitable organization based in Austin, Texas.

    ASSET is intended to give people in India incentives to get out of their current lifestyles, by providing opportunities to make more money. The program also has an eye on preventing AIDS.

    ASSET started as a way of helping the children of sex workers through education rather than a blanket donation.

    Its functions have since expanded to include educating girls rescued from trafficking and victims of rape. Those who enlist in the program are trained in computer literacy and taught English so they can get employed at a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) job, a staple of India’s economy.

    “”The demand for computer literate workers in India is huge,”” said Ray Umashankar. “”If we can give them skills, we help the children and the employers.””

    ASSET students are also taught money management, interpersonal skills and how to give back to the community.

    ASSET has five centers throughout India. Each location features computers, software and paid English and information technology instructors to get people properly trained to enter the workforce.

    The program focuses on big cities in India where women are trafficked into prostitution. In addition to centers in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore, a center in Ahmedabad will soon be opening.

    “”Our goal is to have 10 centers, but our success is measured in how many people we place in internships and jobs,”” Ray Umashankar said.

    NewGen Imaging, a high-tech publishing and data services company with a production center in Chennai and Bangalore, has agreed to hire 20 students as interns or employees when they finish their ASSET training.

    “”If you raise funds to educate, there are long-term benefits for the person, like a salary,”” said Nita Umashankar, who received the UA Alumni Association’s Leo B. Hart Humanitarian award for the ASSET project.

    The Umashankar family had some help in making the ASSET program successful.

    Along with several grants from various organizations, IBM and TATA Consultancy Services donated used laptops and PCs. The Dell Foundation gave ASSET a $18,400 grant for new computers. Software, licenses, computing hardware and textbooks came free from Microsoft, NComputing and Aptech.

    Also, Parade magazine and the Case Foundation have asked ASSET to participate in a fundraising challenge.

    If ASSET gets the most people to donate, it will win $50,000, which will go specifically toward educating 100 children of sex workers in India.

    Each student who donates $10 online will be reimbursed $10 immediately, due in part to a $1,000 grant ASSET received.

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