Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College students are held to an exceptionally high standard and are well known for the prestige that they hold within the university.
As a first-year student, Schreyer Honors College scholar Neha Gupta is already fulfilling those standards and leaving a bright trail behind her.
Gupta is a first-year student at Penn State, but is already fulfilling the vision of the Schreyer Honors College, as it strives “to educate men and women who will have an important and ethical influence in the world,” Christian M. Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College, said.
“Neha’s altruism and leadership in service to others presents a powerful and positive force that embodies not only the philanthropic energy of Penn State, but also the desire to be better, to do more, and to have a meaningful and lasting impact on the world around us,” Brady said.
On Nov. 18, Gupta was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize in The Hague, Netherlands, according to a press release issued by Penn State News.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai presented her with the award — all three of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gupta (freshman-premedicine) was presented with this prestigious award because at the seemingly young age of 9 years old, she was already making a huge impact on the world.
While on a trip to see her grandparents in India, Gupta and her family made their traditional visit to the local orphanage. It was this particular visit that lit a fire inside of 9-year-old Gupta.
“On that day, I met and befriended a girl, an orphan named Gayatri, and it was through this relationship that I understood for first time what it truly means to have nothing,” Gupta said.
After seeing Gayatri getting teased because she did not know her own birthday, Gupta was immediately aware that even something so miniscule, yet crucial, as celebrating a birthday was not available to all children.
It was evident that there was a stark difference between the life that she knew and the lives of the children that she encountered.
“Suddenly, it was clear to me what it meant to be poor in the truest sense –– to have no one to give you absolute love and no place to call home,” Gupta said.
For the first time in her young life, she considered the limitations that were placed on the orphans’ lives and how they did not have access to basic commodities such as going to school or receiving medical treatment.
“The future that likely awaited these children terrified me. In that moment, I knew that I had to take action to help these children have hope. I had to find my voice and raise it so that they could have one too. And thus Empower Orphans was born,” Gupta said.
After that trip to India, Gupta came back to the United States with a mission.
Her plan was simple –– “to help children escape the shackles of poverty through better education and health care,” Gupta said.
She began to organize fundraisers for orphans, but as she grew up, she realized that her dream was not one that she could achieve alone.
As a result, her goals for Empower Orphans “evolved to include educating other young people and uniting them for the purpose of empowering disadvantaged children,” Gupta said.
It is because of her significant work and her efforts to make the lives of children all over the world better that Gupta was awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize.
The International Children’s Peace Prize was created by the founder of the Dutch KidsRights Foundation and is annually awarded to a child for his or her dedication to children’s rights.
According to the organization’s website, the prize is presented annually “to an exceptional child, whose courageous or otherwise remarkable actions have made a difference in improving children’s rights, which helps children worldwide.”
The International Children’s Peace Price is not the first time that Gupta’s work has been celebrated. She has previously won numerous awards including the 2011 World of Children Award, the NHL’s All-Star World Changer Award and the Congressional Award Gold Medal.
“Neha Gupta’s efforts to help orphans is inspirational. Learning about her spirit of giving and action from the time she was a young girl is truly remarkable,” Schreyer Honors College Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Nichola Gutgold said.
For now, Gupta plans to come back to school and catch up on all the classes that she has missed. In the summer, she plans to travel to India and the Philippines to conduct a few projects for helping children.
At the end of the day, Gupta said she is a regular teenager and college student.
“I understand what it is like to be wrapped up in my daily activities and massive amounts of school work,” Gupta said.
However, she said she believes it is important to know there are children struggling for food, safety, education and health care, “dreaming to be in our positions.”
“Knowing this, it is our responsibility to aid them. I encourage everyone to join Empower Orphans to help the vulnerable children in the world,” she said.