Empowering Orphans: A Schoolgirl's Crusade
Still in high school, Neha Gupta was recently selected as a 2011 World of Children Award winner, considered the Nobel prize for global child advocacy.
In early November she will go to New York for a special recognition with brand-name dignitaries and powerhouses in fashion, philanthropy, publishing and finance and receive a $25,000 cash grant to further expand her nonprofit’s work.
The funds will be utilized to start a computer lab and library in India.
She talks about her heartening venture and how you can help her in bringing smiles to underprivileged children.
(Above): In a school in a small village in Northern India, Neha is greeted with smiles. Neha distributed books and food to these children.
(Cover photo): Neha sponsored the education of two of these underprivileged children.
One of things that I am truly passionate about is dedicating my time to help orphaned and underprivileged children. When I was a child, my grandparents used to take me to an orphanage in India (each time we visited them) to interact with the kids and give them food and books. However, I did not exactly understand the plight of the children’s lives until I was nine years old.
I remember the moment that I was talking to a girl of the same age; she wore tattered clothes and her face was covered in a thin black layer of dirt. As she showed me around the orphanage, we first went to her room. It wasn’t exactly her room though ... she shared it with ten other girls. As I walked in, all I saw was an empty room with a single sheet on the ground. I asked in a confused manner, “This is where you sleep? Where is your bed?” She looked down as she spoke and said, “This is our bed ... We sleep on the ground. It does get very cold in the winter but we manage.” I was absolutely shocked. I was used to sleeping on a big queen-sized bed with comforters and in warm clothes.
However, they did not have any of that and could easily fall sick. Later, as I was asking her about where she goes to school, she again looked down as she spoke and said, “I don’t. I don’t go to school because I’m not allowed to. We don’t have the money to. I’ve heard about how amazing school is, though. I have always wanted to go, but I guess I will never be able to.” At that moment, I just looked at her in utter shock. I could not say anything because I had no idea what to say.
In the U.S., I was used to waking up every morning, dreading going to school and saying, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school today.” But there I was, looking at an innocent young girl who woke up every morning, begging to go to school, but was denied it.
She, along with millions of other children, had to grow up without parents, no money in her pocket, no proper education, and no proper health care. She was left to fend for herself. She was scared about what would happen to her when she turned 16 and would be kicked out of the orphanage. She was scared about where she would go and how she would support herself.
(Above): Neha with kindergarten children at a school for underprivileged children in Yamuna Nagar, India.
I told my parents, “They need to be able to go to school to stand on their own feet, and need to be healthy enough to even stay in school!” It was then that it came to me that I was introduced to a vicious problem and knew that it had to be stopped. I needed to do something!
When we went back to the U.S., I gathered some friends and began to raise money. In our first effort, we raised about $700! The success of one small fundraising event led me to keep going in my efforts.
Slowly throughout the years, our efforts expanded and three years later we registered ourselves as a non-profit 501(c)3 -- Empower Orphans, with a mission to give children the opportunity to live up to their full potential through a proper education and also health care to enable them to stay in school.
In five years, we have raised more than $200,000 (through selling handmade crafts made by orphans in India, receiving grants, etc.) and have helped 15,000 destitute, abandoned, abused, and orphaned children:
- Established five libraries, with total of 15,500 books.
- Started two computer labs at underprivileged schools. The lab has seven computers, four printers, power supply backup and internet facilities.
- A science center was also set up with microscopes at a school for underprivileged children.
- Established a sewing institution with 30 sewing machines for the older siblings of children attending an underprivileged school. The graduating class was given these sewing machines, which enabled them to immediately start their own businesses and earn a living and assist their families.
- Sponsored the complete education of 50 underprivileged children.
- Conducted a four-day eye and dental clinic for 360 underprivileged children. The doctors evaluated the needs of each child and advanced treatment was provided to the children as appropriate. Fifty six children were provided additional eye care and 103 children were provided extensive dental treatment.
- Provided 5,000 children with diapers.
- Furnished 30 apartments for underprivileged families.
- Set up a motorized well for 20,000 villagers and also provided a school with a water purifier for clean water.
- Provided nutritious food, school books, school bags, footwear, warm clothes and blankets to thousands of orphaned children.
- Provided bicycles to an orphanage located in Bucks County, PA.
- Provided 200 CFL bulbs to an orphanage located in Bucks County, PA, to lower electricity bills.
- Provided 150 stuffed animals to Mission Kids (a center for abused children, located in Montgomery County, PA) to make it a more comfortable environment.
I love helping these children so much! It is an amazing feeling to see the change that you can make in their lives as they grow. I am definitely very happy with how much my efforts have grown; of course I am hoping that we keep growing and that more people see how important it is to help these children.
(Above): One of the schools where Neha has opened a library, computer lab and sewing center.
We have many future plans that we aim to accomplish.
This year and next year we would like to open two more libraries and computer labs (in the U.S. and India), sponsor more children’s education fees (in India), supply more girls with sewing machines (in India), provide clean bedding to underprivileged children (in the U.S.), and provide underprivileged children with toys (in the U.S.).
In the future, we would like to continue to open more libraries, and also open a school for vocational training.
If you would like to donate books, school fees, sewing machines, computers, toys, etc. we would really appreciate it. Check our mailing address on our Web site at www.empowerorphans.org.
If you would like to get involved in our cause, feel free to search our Web site for fundraising ideas and tools, host a fundraising event, open a club in school, include our crafts made by orphans in India for wedding gifts for the bride/groom or for the guests, or maybe if your birthday is coming up, host a party and ask your guests to donate to Empower Orphans. With your help, we will all be able to help children stand on their own feet.
(Above): A number of volunteers for Empower Orphans formed a team to open a library at Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia. About 3,000 books and items, clothes valued at approx. $25,000 were collected. (From l-r): (Back row): Rooble Bagga, Nipun Agarwal; (Middle): Kelly Pennett, Julia Krasny, Jennie Kratz, Nafis Khan, Jason Fields; and (Front): Brooke Harkins, Hana Mujkovic, Fiona McPadden, and Neha Gupta.
World of Children Award
The World of Children Award (www.worldofchildren.org) is the only global recognition and funding program for people specifically and exclusively serving the needs of children.
Now a 14-year-old philanthropy dedicated to identifying and leveraging the efforts of those working on the ground to improve children’s lives, the World of Children Award has recognized some of the most effective child advocates worldwide and provided funding and visibility for their efforts.
Leading philanthropies praise this organization’s extensive worldwide research and vetting of extraordinary individuals who are spearheading health and humanitarian programs.
The World of Children Award has awarded more than $4.3 million in cash grants and program support to assist 90 changemakers for children working in over 100 countries.