Borne out of the deep aspiration and dreams to attain greater good the Sex Workers of Mysore and Mandya came together to form “Ashodaya Samithi” in December 2005 and formally registered the organization. It comprises of Female, Male and Transgender Sex Workers, and strives for the advancement of sex workers in Mysore, Mandya, Kodagu, Hassan, and Chikmagalur Districts of Karnataka. Governed by a board that has representation of all three community members, the organization implements the Project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the University of Manitoba, Canada. This program implemented by Ashodaya has been regarded as a learning site and has had several Community Based Organizations, NGOs, SACS and National Program visiting and learning from the initiative.
The work of Ashodaya has been commended and the Director General of NACO has acknowledged the need for replication of such community led initiative in the Phase III of the National AIDS Control Program in the realm of Targeted Interventions. Ashodaya’s work in HIV has been an example and a best practice that demonstrated rapid scale up, consistent quality of services and prevention impact in a short duration of three years. Data from the work shows no increase in HIV prevalence (from 25% in 2004 to 24% in 2006) and a decline of STI from 25% (2004) to less than 3% (2007) and an increase in consistent condom use from 20% to 85% in the same period of three years. The innovation of network based outreach, micro-planning and community led advocacy are some of those which have been used extensively by other intervention sites across the country.
Ashodaya Samithi has been successfully building capacities of persons ranging from community members from high risk groups, NGO staff and Project Directors, donors and policy makers from the government and other international organizations such as UNFPA, UNHCR, and the University of Sichuan, China.
With proven track record in HIV prevention, recognition from International Organizations was only to follow. This year, Ashodaya Samithi bagged the prestigious award for South Asia Regional Development Marketplace (SARDM) from the World Bank, to mitigate stigma and discrimination against sex work and sex workers living with HIV competing among 1000 organizations from South Asia Region.
Apart from funded projects, Ashodaya Samithi raises community resources as well as resources from local people to initiate community development activities including activities around anti trafficking of minor girls. Recently, Ashodaya Samithi initiated its first self-revenue generating project by starting a Restaurant in Mysore and has many patrons from the general population who come to dine knowing that it is a sex workers run restaurant.
Two initiatives that began within Ashodaya were Adarsha (an MSM and Transgender Organization) and Ashraya (an organization for sex workers and non-sex workers living with HIV/AIDS) and are both represented in the Ashodaya governing board. Though, Ashodaya does not have a funded program on Care and Support, the community clinic doubles up as a HIV clinic and the organization is poised to start a community care centre based on the demand that is coming from the community itself.