Latest Children’s Peace Prize Winner Puts Empathy Into Action

There are traditions that believe children enter the world knowing everything there is to know about human existence. Others believe that our time growing up is less about learning what we don’t know and more about remembering everything that the universe has already told us. Some ancient cultures felt that children were oracles, and philosophers would spend time listening to them in search of the meaning of life. They believed that children were not only our future but also had the answers to our present. One child’s answers earned her the 2014 International Children’s Peace Prize.

The Children’s Peace Prize is awarded annually to “an exceptional child, whose courageous or otherwise remarkable actions have made a difference in improving children’s rights, which helps children worldwide.” Launched in 2005, the idea was to encourage children to express their ideas, and most importantly, put them into action. The winner receives an educational scholarship, which includes living expenses.

2014 winner Neha Gupta is a child of the globe. A United States citizen, she was born in New Zealand to Indian parents and now lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia. When she was nine years old, she took her annual trek to visit her grandparents in India and celebrated her birthday with the children at a local orphanage — a family tradition. For the first time, she became aware of how different her life was from the orphans': They would never have an education like hers, they faced malnutrition and disease, and most importantly, they didn’t have the love and support of a family.

When she returned home, she immediately set out to do what she could to help. She raised money through garage sales made up of items donated by neighbors. With additional donations from friends and family, she returned to India for her 10th birthday celebration with $5,000. That money was used to fund a library, food, clothes, and blankets for the orphanage.

Still in elementary school, Neha started Empower Orphans, a nonprofit striving to “elevate the well-being of orphaned children and empower them to succeed.” In the nine years since, Empower Orphans has completed numerous projects, including establishing libraries, computer labs, science centers, and even a sewing center in schools around India. The organization has sponsored education for children and provided clothing and school supplies, health clinics for eye and dental exams, home improvement projects, and water purification systems and water wells.

Neha’s efforts are especially remarkable because Empower Orphans’ success is entirely the result of young people’s actions. Everything is done by children and young people ages 7–20. They mobilize worldwide via social media to share ideas and execute projects. Many have been inspired to begin projects in their own communities across the globe.

Now 18, Neha is a premed student with the goal of becoming a doctor specializing in children’s health. She plans to expand Empower Orphans to other countries while pursuing her degree.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons