Neha Gupta, citizen of the United States of America, born in New Zealand to Indian parents, is a truly global child. Since the age of nine she has made it her mission to help the children of the world, and with extraordinary dedication and leadership, she has led her peers across the world to do just that. Through Empower Orphans, assisted by teenage volunteers like herself, she has raised over $1.3 million and touched the lives of over 25,000 children worldwide.
How it all started in India
It all started in 2005, on Neha’s annual visit to her grandparents in India. Every year they celebrated birthdays, in accordance with family tradition, with the children of the local orphanage.
She was nine years old, and accustomed to playing with these children. But this was the first time reality dawned on her: her young friends, who seemed to have so much in common with her, had no chance of an education; they faced malnutrition and disease; and they lacked the love and support she would always be able to take for granted.
Neha was shocked and her heart went out to these children, however, she considered empathy to be insufficient; she needed to do something! Neha went straight home to the suburbs of Philadelphia and embarked on her first fundraiser. Going door to door, and reaching out to friends, she collected toys and goods for a garage sale which netted around $800. Inspired by her success, she sought further donations from friends, family and the general public. A year later, she returned to India with $5000 to fund a library, food, clothes and blankets for the children of the orphanage.
And so, Empower Orphans was born. Basic education and healthcare are central to Neha’s vision. Worldwide, 872 million people live below the international poverty line, and India is home to over 20% of them. Children born into these households lack opportunities for quality education and run several health risks; they have little or no access to safe drinking water, essential vaccines or nutrition, and they are at greater risk of abuse. Their basic human rights to survival and healthy development are systematically denied.
In the last nine years Empower Orphans has established in several places in India libraries, computer labs, a science centre and a sewing centre, all in schools. It sponsors the education of individual children, has convened an eye and dental camp, sponsored surgery for polio victims, and spread awareness of the cancer-causing dangers of the candied tobacco so popular among children in India. It has provided water purification, home furnishings and diapers for babies.
Taking it local
As time passed, Neha saw that there were American children in her own region also desperately in need of help. About 22% of children in the USA live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, and they too find their basic needs unmet. Empower Orphans expanded its reach to Pennsylvania to work with a centre for abused and abandoned children, a school for underprivileged children and local hospitals.
“When you look at the world,” Neha says, “you see so much discrepancy between what you have and what others do not. There are many more poor people than rich people. You should not only sympathise with people, you have to empathise, and turn ideas into action.”
conviction of Neha has turned into the slogan of Empower Orphans: Empathy, Opportunity, Equality.
Becoming a global inspiration for youth
What is truly remarkable about Neha’s achievement is the extent to which everything has been carried out by children, for children. Children from 7 to 20 years old help out in India and America, and from all over the world through Facebook. She has mobilised over a thousand young people in her quest to help those in need, and is proving that children can be changemakers, taking a stand for what they believe in, and making things happen.
Neha’s work is a plea for the right to child and youth participation as taken up in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Neha has empowered children and youth to become social actors, by supporting her organisation or by starting social projects of their own. Children and young people in the USA, India, Singapore and Australia have all been inspired by her example, supported and guided by her expertise.
And Neha has achieved all this as a schoolgirl. Now just 18, she has started on a premedical track in college. She dreams of becoming a doctor in support of the health of children, but far from putting Empower Orphans aside, she plans to harness the energy of her fellow students to reach out to children in new communities and even new countries.
Neha is an inspiring young woman who demonstrates, like her hero Gandhi, that you can “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Year of birth 1996
Winner in 2014
Subject the rights of vulnerable children and inspiring other children to take action