If you thought Malala was amazing, you’ve got to check out Neha Gupta. This incredible woman is the first American to win the International Children’s Peace Prize for her founding of Empower Orphans (which she founded at 9-years-old), an organization whose actions have drastically improved the rights of children globally. She urges youth around the world to be igniters of change, and her endless list of social justice accomplishments are an inspiration to us all.
Name: Neha Gupta
College: Pennsylvania State University
Majors: Biology and Neuroscience
Graduation Year: 2018
Her Campus: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Neha Gupta: I believe that becoming an effective global change maker is my greatest achievement to date. I’ve created Empower Orphans which has positively impacted the lives of over 25,000 vulnerable children by providing them with foundational education and basic health care. As a founding member of the Kids Rights Youngsters––an advocacy and awareness-raising platform comprised of my fellow International Children’s Peace Prize winners, I have successfully petitioned for children’s rights to be put at the core of international agendas. For example, we ensured that the issues of child slavery, child labor and child trafficking would be included in the 2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. We also contributed to the development of the Amman Youth Declaration which culminated in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security––a first of its kind. I am so impressed by just how well we work together––transcending the barriers of language, color, nationality, ethnicity, race and religion. After speaking on a panel discussion in London for the Thomas Reuters Foundation during End Child Slavery Week, along with 2014 Noble Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, it became apparent to me that my perspective on the world had drastically changed after starting Empower Orphans.
HC: What was the hardest part of starting Empower Orphans?
NG: I think the hardest part in my journey with Empower Orphans was having the courage to be different. I was only 9-years-old when I founded the organization. Very understandably, the majority of my peers had a different focus. To achieve my goals, I had to learn to position myself and communicate my goals for the organization. I had to learn to deal with rejection when asking for donations or support for my organization. And of course, I had to balance being a “kid,” along with the demands of Empower Orphans and school.
HC: Who in your life most inspires you?
NG: The kids that Empower Orphans help, as well as my fellow recipients of the International Children’s Peace Prize are my inspirations. Empower Orphans helps vulnerable children: orphans, abandoned children, children who live on the streets and children whose family’s income are much below the international poverty line. Despite their difficulties and facing a future that would likely be bleak, these children actively leverage the tools we provide them to initiate change in their lives. They make the best of their circumstances and have the determination to rise above their daily struggles. There is much to learn from them. My fellow winners of the Peace Prize are also unquestionably the most inspiring people I have come across. Each one of them has faced, and some continue to face, challenges that we in the West cannot even begin to imagine.
HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?
NG: The proverb “throw your heart out in front of you, and run ahead to catch it” best describes the advice I would have for other college students like myself. If you have a dream or a passion or a goal, let it be front and center. Chase it with every breath.
I think we would all agree that we live in very disturbing times. We owe it to ourselves and to the coming generations to change this. It isn’t enough to just talk about the changes that should be made. WE HAVE to take action, to stand up and let our voices be heard and be THE igniters of change. I firmly believe that all youth should find a cause that touches their heart, to convert their empathy into action and then let those actions ripple out to inspire others. We as today’s youth need to become unstoppable forces of good that reach our family, our friends, our community and our world.
HC: What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
NG: I have two areas of focus. One is to gain admission into a medical school and specialize in brain injuries and the other is to fight for children’s rights. My experiences with Empower Orphans illustrated the importance of health care in improving the living conditions of vulnerable populations and led to my aspiration of becoming a physician from a young age. This childhood desire is now firmly cemented. I also want to continue to leverage the platform offered to me as a recipient of the International Children’s Peace Prize to advocate for the rights of children, engaging with law-makers and policy-makers at the international level. Concurrently, I want to continue my efforts of inspiring other youth to become change makers.
HC: What is your favorite inspirational quote?
NG:“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou
There is nothing I can say that would do this quote justice. It has always been important to me to take each step with optimism and each action with passion. There were many a day when I had to draw strength from and live by these words by Maya Angelou.
HC: How would you describe yourself in five words?
NG: Persistent, humble, empathetic, exuberant, altruistic