"Imagine throwing a pebble in a pond: the first ripple is small, but then you watch in awe as the ripples become larger and larger," said Neha Gupta, Penn State science student. "And just so is the impact of one person with an idea or mission that speaks to the heart."
Student Neha Gupta, Children's Peace Prize winner, brings charity to Penn State
Gupta is one of the rarest kinds of students. Balancing a premedicine honors curriculum, she also runs an international charity and acts as a spokesperson for Microsoft.
But she's eager to make the most of her time at Penn State, even with her busy schedule.
"The best part is the number of opportunities and resources that will prepare me to be a holistic healer," she said. "The professors are very knowledgeable and accessible to students. And I love my pre-med adviser who is a mentor to me."
The Schreyer Scholar and premedicine major created her charity, Empower Orphans, when she was just 9 years old. An annual trip to India to visit her grandparents always included a visit to a local orphanage.
"It was our way of giving back to the local community," Gupta explained.
Gupta, even at a young age, realized how little the children in the orphanage had in comparison to her own upbringing.
"By the time I was 9 years old, I was able to comprehend the implications and realities of these children's lives. And I realized that although these children and I were the same age, and even of the same ethnicity, we lived completely different lives."
Thus, Empower Orphans was born. Since its founding in 2005, Empower Orphans has helped more than 25,000 children, both in India and in the United States. While she was able to obtain some corporate donors, the majority of the charity's more than $1.6 million raised has come from Gupta's own efforts, by selling her toys or homemade wine charms or going door to door to raise money.
Through Empower Orphans, Gupta and the charity's volunteers have been able to build five libraries, four computer centers, a science laboratory, and a sewing center for underprivileged children. This is in addition to providing free health care clinics, building a well to provide clean water, and purchasing numerous school supplies, household items and clothing for these children.
While it may seem like an antiquated idea in the Western world, the sewing center in particular helps underprivileged children in India learn valuable skills that can help them earn a living. Gupta cites an example of a girl who learned to sew in the sewing center and now runs a successful tailoring business.
"She now exclusively supports her entire family," said Gupta. "She now mentors other young women on economic empowerment and how to seek control of their own destinies."
Gupta was surprised when she was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize in November 2014 for her work.
"When you do something you love, the work itself is the reward," said Gupta. "So naturally, I was shocked, humbled and ecstatic. Especially knowing that Malala Yousafzai won the award in 2013 made me feel privileged."
Microsoft was so inspired by Gupta's work and her commitment to inspire others to get involved that they chose her to be one of three students from around the country to be featured for their Collective Project — focused on "harnessing the power of the many to bring great ideas to life."
Gupta has now brought Empower Orphans to Penn State as a student organization. She also plans to study abroad in an underserved area to gain insight into global medicine.
"It has been incredible to see support from Penn State students and staff," said Gupta. "I feel blessed to have had such a positive response."