By S.J. for Youth-Leader Magazine
Neha Gupta was but 9 nine years old when she was shaken by the fate of orphaned children in India and decided to do the right thing. Next, you’ll be doing it, too.
Like many of us, Neha visits her grandparents during holidays. In her case, this is in Northern India, and keeping with family tradition, longer stays included volunteering at an orphanage along with her parents.
One day, she realized that the 200 children living at the orphanage did not have parents. It was heartbreaking for me to think that these children had no parent to guide them, protect them, or love them.
Moreover, they had no means to gain even a basic education.
“I felt very sad when I heard this because I know education is very important,” she remembers.
Neha was 9 years old then.
A young girl from the orphanage guided her to the sleeping area where children slept on hard floors, even in winters. She told Neha that the children there dreamt of going to school, but it was a dream that couldn’t transcend to reality because they did not have the money..
Horrified by the stark difference between their lives and hers, Neha decided to do something for these orphans on a long-term basis. “It was quite upsetting to me,” she says. “I used to take education for granted, waking up every day and saying, ‘I don’t want to go to school today.’ But that’s really changed for me.”
“Instead of internalizing these feelings and merely showing empathy for the orphans and underprivileged children, I decided to take action.”
In the beginning, Neha didn’t know how to help, but since the girl spoke of money she decided, “I’ll just collect money.”
“Adults, especially in India, would say, ‘You’re just a little girl. Do you really think you are going to change anything?’, she says.
Well she did! A few years after her life-changing experience, she had collected a whopping $375,000€. To formalize her communications, fundraising, administration and distribution she set up an organization – “Empowering Orphans” – with the mission to help children in orphanages become self-sufficient by receiving basic education and healthcare.
In practice, her mission is about more than that. as she continued to observe and reflect uppn orphans’ living conditions, she understood that her work was about more than things : what abandoned children without parents to love, protect, care for, play and learn with them is a safe home of beauty, with loving, trusting, joyful community, to play, to be healthy, to learn and receive an education. In short, the BEST ORPHANAGES ONE CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE … and as you get this done, your unease turns into joy.
It is tremendously rewarding. I just love putting a smile on their faces,” Neha enthusiastically encourages us to get involved.
The early days’ money she raised benefited 15,000 children, and she learned what it got used for.
- nutritious food
- school books, bags,
- footwear, warm clothes and blankets for thousands of children
- diapers for 5,000 children
- a four-day eye and dental clinic for 360 children
- 56 children were provided additional eye care
- 103 children received advanced dental treatment
None of it would have been accessible to them without Neha’s help.
These deeds secured survival … but Neha’s goal was to provide more than that, a full life enabling the children to self-organize a life’s path of peace, joy and abundance. She created add-ons for existing orphanages:
- computer labs
- sewing centers
- science labs
You can imagine that this indeed makes a difference for the kids.
Epic, aye? We’re speaking about really poor places in India. It deserves hi5’s … and Neha has been honored with no less but the world’s finest awards, such as the International Children’s Peace Prize, handed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Tutu.
Of course, she wouldn’t stay alone for long.
Simply being herself, she spread word at school and got bubbly peers involved. It’s FUN to meet up with fired up crew during recess and noon breaks to organize stands, give speeches, raise funds, team up with teachers and plan for actions after school and on week-ends.
Next, off to other schools!
Empower Orphans crew members are teacher’s darling speakers to inform children on their peers’ challenges in the world and how we can make a difference for them – to provide what our own societies have achieved, only recently, in the 20th Century : a life in which basic needs are covered, children are free from violence, and pleasant ways to making a living.
Here’s what teachers love to educate about:
A hundred years ago, we were limited to our parents’ work. We could not read or write, and there were no public institutions where we could get vocational training and degrees offering a wide scope of opportunities. They only became possible through enormous wealth generated by industries, and by social revolutions ending monarchy, then by worker unions giving those doing heavy work in those dirty industries a life in dignity, followed by social inventions like decent working hours, week-ends, holidays, health insurance, unions, rights, workplace security. These things were unimaginable 100 years ago, and are still non-existent in many places for diverse reasons.
It’s the perfect time to bring it back to attention.
The UNITED NATIONS’ Sustainable Development Goals SDGs initiative aims to end extreme poverty, hunger, inequality, violence and more … and makes it very clear that governments alone cannot achieve it. It requires all of us to get involved, no matter how we are organized – as organizations, municipalities, companies … and of course as schools and youth groups.
Time is also perfect because youth today urgently need to feel their powers.
Climate crisis, pandemics, you name it – mental health is under attack from a virus called doom and gloom. The panacea is here.
Youth leaders demonstrate the enormous powers and impacts that youth can add to this quest, and Neha is our perfect story, hero*ine and coach to open young people’s eyes, hearts and hands to our common challenge to provide a life of peace to all young people, so that we can have a peaceful society of adults.
It helps to clarify that “orphans” are children born or dropped into a situation of not having a complete family – for diverse reasons, none of which is their fault, nor yours.
It also helps to clarify that family comes with absolutely indispensable essential nurturing resources like love, food, peace, safety, learning, identity, frisnds and more.
It further helps to clarify that family is a natural right on Earth, all animals have it. It also is omni-present in healthy human societies, just look at indigenous tribes and their 3,000 cultures, and you see emotionally functional families.
It is only in societies of empire that lost their wisdom keepers that people got broken into sad slaves, that harmony between men and women got broken, that harmony between parents and children got broken, that the bond between community and all children living in it got broken.
This civilizational mess is obviously not the fault of people alive today.
But we are born into this “game scenario” inherited from earlier generations that lacked resources, understanding and heart to heal it.
All of us agree that it is suboptimal, that it hurts, that we dislike it, and that we want it to disappear. We all agree. That’s unusual. And precious. It means we all feel we’re on the same team.
Feeling that is important. It’s not the data that set us into motion. It’s the feeling. Can you locate the feelings in your body? Now think about how it feels when the problem is solved and how this makes you smile. It makes all of us smile. And it’s our job to do it. Yep, That’s why the teamplay sense matters.
No government can wave a magic wand, and no rich star can make it go away. It is on all of us and it’s a team sport and there’s several seasons to play. That’s okay. Several seasons mean many plots to plan, many moves to make, many new friends, suprises and epic wins along the way. Yay!
And the best thing is – our societies now have the resources to do it! We also have the understanding, and if we’re honest, we have the Heart, too!
Yes, it would be difficult to start this journey with empty hands, but you’re no longer empty-handed.
Your ignition key is Neha's story
It gets people of all ages started
Neha is 1 kid
and she has activated countless supporters to give thousands of orphans a GOOD and COMPLETE life, which shapes their next 70 years on the planet, plus the lives of their cmpanions, plus the lives of their children, plus the lives of their neighbors, their workmates and employees. Like many others teenagers, she impacts 100,000+ people and the future of entire city districts.
When she says, she believes in the power of 1 to change the world, because she knows it is the truth. So, when you think of the power of the collective, also think of the 1 person or group that activates the collective to do their parts. There’s no reason to wait for a collective. You don’t need titles, training, permission, a million dollars or a formal organization to do this.
You can start it alone. And you’re not even alone.
Neha – and YL – provide the basic tools, knowhow, credibility and relations for newbies and busy people to move forward fast and fun. The methods are known, no need to re-invent the wheel, now it’s about using it in a millions places.
“In this world there are millions of orphans who go through life every day without any parental love or guidance, proper food or shelter. Some people say that we cannot stop this, but I believe that we have the power to change anything with determination.”
Empower Orphans doesn’t ask much of you to be part. Just do your best! Kids can save money earned from chores and donate it, organize yard sales or bake sales for charity, or buy crafts made by orphans.
As youth interact with orphans, they make friends, share their stories with peers and trusted teachers, seek adult allies, companies, tell their stories in news media and things get rolling. It’s a popular topic with many conscious people and young people helping their underpriviledged peers is a dream story come true for many of them to tell and join and help as they can.
All of us can teach children life-lessons- that there is a world beyond school and homework, that there are children who deserve attention in whose lives even small steps taken by us can make a difference. This is a necessary lesson to be learnt.
If there are two things we can learn from Neha, they are empathy and initiative, the latter of which is merely making the effort to simply completing our mind’s desire. So, get inspired with vision and then … do it.
Neha’s organization is called Empower Orphans but it is just as much about empowering individuals to make a contribution to society – precisely many of us living fuller, protected life of opportunities who still feel disempowered, help- and hopeless when faced with broken aspects of the world. Neha proves that those times are over.
She is not an anomaly. Remember Craig Kielburger saying at age 15: “Free The Children not only aims to liberate children from bonded labor, but also to liberate them from the idea that they are powerless.” Brother and sister in heart they are. FTC clubs sprang up at 16,000 schools. Sixteen thousand. This tells you it works everywhere. First, they helped children in faraway India, then in a dozen countries on three continents, and finally also in their Canadian home districts.
Likewise, Neha extended her work to orphanages in Philadelphia as she discovered widespread abandonment of children and youth in her home country, the USA. The disparities of wealth, well-being and opportunities for some and the suffering of others were even more striking here and you know her well enough already that she would not stay idle. She complemented her mission with work for local orphanages in Philadelphia.
“I just love putting a smile on their faces.”
You can imagine that this brings also new fascinating experiences like face to face encounters, year-round connections, all sorts of activities … that many local allies will join.
You have seen earlier that school children get inspired for causes, such as long-term hospitalized children. Also they are abandoned by most of us … they are invisible, but also their social relations cease to visit them, they lack the peace and abundance of children that can attend schools. This is not only outer abundance. It is inner abundance that matters no less and probably more to make us feel fulfilled and truly alove and alove. So, Neha extended her work to hospitals, too.
As a YL’er, you know of Jen’s handmade Cards For Hospitalized Kids to make their days. And of Emma’s book drives for magical children and youth libraries. And of youth tailor training centres of our partners Red Brigade Trust (India), John’s village school (Uganda) and Kakuma Refugee Camp Girls Crew (Kenya). You see, these classics are standard building blocks for youth born into poor environments. They help them learn and develop popular skills.
But a good life needs more. You know that being stuck inside a room for weeks sucks. Imagine living in an often underfunded, hence dull, overcrowded place with limited privacy, silence and self-expression, unable to move around in town and region by yourself – and no parents that take a drive to lakes in summer … and you understand that exciting action and creative action are what makes life good!
Imagine bundling up several young hero*ines’ high impact projects for an orphanage!
You can add-on many activities organized by other teenage changemakers, like creative writing (Katie), nature excursions and film making (Abbie), picking free fruits for the hungry (Zach), planting Community Fruit Tree Alleys (Alicia), restoring watersheds (Ana), creating butterfly sanctuaries (Duncan), edible school gardens (Chander) and many others, and creating a positive news radio show on your activities (Kimmie, Andrea). Stuff kids and teens love doing, and that adults love supporting.
One such special monthly activity organized by your part is enough to enrich orphans’ life, since these enable self-organization by their part within the emerging web of relations.
Bear in mind that also “orphanages” can unfold superpowers as a gtoups of youth with space, supportive adults and municipal relations …
You are well equipped to evoke considerable changes for abandoned kids near you!
We have questions
so we had a blitzchat with Neha
Eric: You raised a lot of money… it’s a lot compared to what others achieve when doing sales and walking around their neighbourhood. … how do you raise funds?
Neha: We raise funds from public donations and corporate donations. I also apply for grants and awards. A very small percentage is raised by sales of items on our website.
Eric: Do you live in an unusual environment? Like plenty of golf clubs and yachts? Or do you tap into specific networks?
Neha: I live in a middle class neighborhood near Philadelphia, USA. There is absolutely nothing special about my environment that I was able to raise funds.
“The key thing is perseverance in approaching public and corporate donors.”
P E R S E V E R A N C E
It means sticking to it. Like a sport.
There is no need to scream or dash, rather keep up the soft, beautiful messaging like a habit, like doing a daily jog in sunny weather … and at some time it reaches the right person at the right moment.
Also, as people, cities or companies receive repeat-messages, they know that you are serious about it, that you’ve been into it for a while, which means that you’ve gained experience, knowledge and partners, This builds respect, recognition and trust that investing in your initiative will yield rich results for your cause and beneficiaries.
You are equipped with the tools, tricks and partners of 100+ hero*ines, coaches, educators and media makers.
You have a busy life or are a newbie. That’s why we give you plenty of tools, tricks, causes, activities and partners to – with ease – reach many people, grow a friendly highly resourceful community and thereby an enabling environment. The process naturally leads to results.
Eric: Your website says that youth can join your quest, and open own “Teams” …
Neha: Yes, people can form Teams on our website. A Team leader will set up the Team and clearly define the cause that they are planning to support. They will also indicate the amount of funds that they will raise.
The advantage to the Teams is that they raise funds not for EO in general, but for a specific cause that they are passionate about. Also other people can donate to achieve a Team’s goals.
The Teams benefit of our organization’s status and resources. All funds donated to the Team through our website will initially come to my organization’s bank account. We will then allocate the funds to the Team based on achieving certain milestones.
For example, if a Team plans to open a water well in Africa, we do not give all the funds to the team on the first day of the project. We will give the funds as we continue to see progress. This ensures that all the funds go to the right cause.
Eric: How do you monitor progress?
Neha: This is the most difficult part of my work since we cannot be everywhere to monitor projects. Hence, until now we have focused on India and the Philadelphia region.
One of my volunteers in raising funds for orphanages in South America. He plans to build libraries and we will monitor the progress by the photographs and videos that he supplies from the actual location. We will also talk to the people in South America to ensure that the project had an impact.
Eric: Do you foresee to continue Empower Orphans long-term, as a priority? Or do you sense that other things starts coming into your life?
Neha: I definitely plan to continue my work with my non-profit organization. At college, I explore interesting options to accelerate my efforts.
My goal is for these children to gain sufficient vocational skills so that they can earn a living in the future.
Meanwhile, at PENN STATE UNIVERSITY
Neha has launched a chapter and combining ideas, talent and passion of her crew have added to her program’s scope
- mentoring programs for children
- group travel trips to Africa
- multiple medical camps
- film screenings with changemakers
- trainings for UN SDG programs
Eric: WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING?
Neha: According to the United Nations there are approximately 145 million abandoned children in the world with the majority being orphans. Unless these children are adopted or absorbed by an institution, they are left to wander the streets, beg or steal food, and find shelter wherever they can.
These children are helpless and frequent victims of violence, sexual exploitation and disease. Without the support from their families, these children often turn to organized crime and prostitution for survival – frequently resulting in early death and a perpetuation of a vicious cycle.
In India, 42% of the population lives below the international poverty line (earning less than $1.25€ per day). Children born to these households have little if any access to education. At best, their school attendance is sporadic, as the family lacks the funds to regularly pay school fees. Further, these children are often required to mind younger siblings or required to earn money.
My goal is to help orphaned and underprivileged children gain a basic and or technical education enabling them to ultimately earn a sustainable livelihood and become productive members of society.
Further, I provide food, clothing, blankets and healthcare for orphaned and underprivileged children creating an environment for their holistic well being.
My activities have provided me with experiences that have led me into becoming a mature, confident and empathetic young woman. I have gained leadership skills through volunteer recruitment, project planning and management. Further, I have gained financial, marketing and sales skills. Accepting rejection and persevering despite it, was a key learning for me.
My regular travels to India and interaction with other individuals involved with similar activities have exposed me to the socio-political challenges faced by children around the globe. I am able to compare and contrast these to conditions with those that exist in the United States.
The fulfillment that I receive by making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children is incomparable to any other experiences I have had.
I strongly believe in the POWER OF ONE and that every person in this world has the ability to make a difference.
Eric: Thank you, Neha, for everything you do and help other youth do like you. We look forward to spreading your story and boosting your mission.
“There’s 140 million orphans in the world, and it is not their fault. But if they cannot lead a full life as children and youth, their problems will become ours when they turn adults.”
As you can tell from the past 50 years, governments and adult generations can’t fix it.
But kids can. So, what will you do, good heart?
The future will be what you make it. You’ve had enough hero*ine novels, films and games. Now is the time to live them, FOR REAL. FOR FRODO.
This is a grand Quest of our Era
Your time to #bemoreawesome for orphans has come!
If 9 year old Neha can convert her ideas effectively into an organization, we can do our bit in multiple ways.
If 9 year old Neha doesn’t know how to help, exactly, but simply begins with raising FUNds, then that’s what all of us can do – and should do.
No more chickening out. Face your gaming map and embody this champ. LIVE YOUR NEHA!
Your mission : 1 Awesome Orphanage
You have plenty charity champs’ magic tricks and tools to make it part of daily life and activate entire schools with thousands of students to join in, each contributing a tiny bit and enjoying the thrill and laughters. Lulu Cerone, LemonAID Wariors, Namaste Nepal, Daniella Cohen, Books With No Bounds, Playwell Africa (LEGO), artist Olivia Bouler, makers like Meghana, Nerdygirls and Daniella Boyer, Zach’s ‘Fruit For All, and storytellers like Abbie Barnes, Coralganics and Golden Kids Radio show how to get news out to 10,000s…
Hint: You’ll likely create 3 orphanages. Because… , well, you’ll see.
The steps to empower orphans are simple.
- A decent home, of peaceful ambience, with order, beauty, not neglect
- No bullies, this may require healing
- consider access to nature, to animals, to learnspaces, and excursion
- with things that children use to have and like : toys, LEGO
- with bicycles, and a repair shop to fiddle stuff
- with computers, internet and meaningful creative applications
As YL’ers, you know how Changemaking enriches life!
How about teaming up for projects?
Take on local causes. And take on global causes; especially for this your coaching is GOLD.
- “the kids from the orphanage” give presentations at schools and call their peers to get involved in youth-led ventures!
- the skills learned and friendships formed
- the news coverage forming a positive image
- the new allies and avenues
Our experience is that – like in any school class, and maybe even more – a good percentage of 12 to 14 year old orphans feels strongly about issues like justice and ending violence against children – also because they know what that feels like – and they are willing to step up and achieve changes for children in town. Not for themselves. They think about the others, the little ones. It is very touching and humbling to experience this – and it fires up determination for action. We are curious what you will come up with together.
Tell us of your adventure. You’ll be an epic role model to others! And then, what happens? Right on, they will contribute and if you do it right, and speak at schools, they’ll take on their mission milestones. Ayyee, you’ll love it! So get doing!
PAY A VIST
Learn more on their website at www.empowerorphans.org
- Donate $10€ today and tell 10 friends that you did, include the link to this story.
- Learn about orphans. Imagine life in overcrowded places, their limited chances for education, pleasant work, romance, family, mobility for their next 70 years.
- Visit an orphanage, have open conversations. Embrace your feelings, live your values.
- Share your experience with peers at school and news media. Set goals. Achieve them.
- Make an orphanage awesome.
Celebrate and tell your story!