Our organization began in April 2004, when Elizabeth, a freshman at Emory University at the time, woke up one morning feeling resolved to open a home for street children in India. Inspiration for the project came from her high school experience in India working with street children, as well as from the writings of anthropologist, physician, and activist Paul Farmer. Within a week, she had outlined her ideas and rallied a group of six committed friends and classmates to form the original board of directors; and so, less than a week after it was a mere spark of an idea, our organization had become a tangible entity with clear, substantive goals. After extensive debate about a suitable name, the organization was officially christened the “Ashraya Initiative for Children” about four months later. Ashraya, which means “hope,” “trust,” “shelter,” and “protection” in Hindi, became the clear choice as it embodied precisely what we aspired to provide for our children.
To lay the initial foundations for the home, Liz spent the summer of 2004 in Mumbai, India, and was joined mid-way through by Julia. Both lived in a home for street children on the outskirts of Mumbai, spent the weekdays working on research and photography among the street children living in railway stations around the city, and traveled to Pune on weekends to observe other NGOs, meet with the Charity Commissioner, look at real estate options, and develop a future budget for running expenses. They returned to their respective universities in the fall, as did the rest of the Board, and resumed work on the legal, financial, and administrative aspects of the organization. The Montreal, Austria, and Atlanta-based branches were officially launched that fall as we worked to expand the reach of our organization and the Atlanta-based organization became a registered non-profit in December 2004.