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The Ripple Effect

Neha Gupta (junior)

Find a cause that touches your heart, convert your empathy into action, and then let those actions ripple out. I believe every person has the power to create change, and that power is amplified when ripple effects are created.

Growing up, my family would visit my grandparents in India. As part of each visit, we go to the local Bal Kunj Orphanage and spend time teaching the children English. Although I had been there several times before, something happened on this occasion that changed my life forever—I made a connection. On that day, I met and befriended a girl my age, an orphan named Gayatri, and it was through this relationship that I understood for first time… the disparities in the world, and I caught a glimpse of what it truly means to have nothing.

On the day I met Gayatri, a group of girls from the orphanage were teasing her because she did not know her own birthday. I was shocked.  For a nine year old growing up in the West, a birthday is one of the most anticipated times of the year—a time for gifts and celebration. I wondered—how could someone not know her birthday? But very soon I realized—how could a girl who was abandoned at a young age by her parents ever know when she was born? How could she experience this basic pleasure? This was THE pivotal moment for me, the moment when I truly realized that, although my orphaned friends were the same age as me and of the same ethnicity, we were living completely different lives. 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. For the first time, I considered the implications of not being able to go to school or receive medical attention—these were the daily realities for the orphans of Bal Kunj. The picture of the future that awaited these children terrified me. In that moment, I knew that I HAD to take action, to help these children have hope, to have a chance to lead better lives. I HAD to find my voice and raise it so that they could have one too. And thus Empower Orphans was born.

When I came back to the United States, I began to organize fundraisers for the orphans. My plan was simple—to help the children escape the shackles of poverty through better education and healthcare. Initially, I met with some unexpected challenges. Some of my peers did not take my mission seriously at first, and I struggled for their support and acceptance. As I grew up and matured, I realized that, in order to convert sympathy into empathy and empathy into action, one has to feel a connection. And thus, my goals for Empower Orphans evolved to include educating other young people and uniting them for the purpose of empowering disadvantaged children.  Over the years, I have been so blessed to see others devote themselves to Empower Orphans and even been inspired to start their own efforts.

My experience has made me appreciate the power of this ripple effect. Imagine throwing a pebble into a pond: the first ripple is small but then you watch in awe as one ripple starts another and another, each gradually becoming larger and larger. Just so is the impact of one person with an idea or mission that speaks to the heart.

I am proud to say, Empower Orphans has raised almost $2 million and has aided more than 25,000 children. Over the years, we have established libraries, computer labs, sponsored education fees, conducted health camps, and much more in India and the United States. In November 2014, I was honored to win the International Children’s Peace Prize and humbled by the outpouring of recognition from world. It has provided me an international platform to speak out about children’s rights and become more active with the policies that influence our globe.

I plan to continue my motivational speaking events and expand Empower Orphans into a global and self-sustaining organization, starting with a chapter at Penn State that has already spread efforts to Africa. With the current Empower Orphans commercial on the Big Ten Network, my hope is that the organization expands to other universities.

I cannot begin to express my appreciation for the passion the students of the Penn State chapter have. It is incredible to see other students take Empower Orphans in as their own cause. In the short time they have been at Penn State, they have created bonds between members and children, locally and abroad. Most importantly, they have inspired the student body to take action and support vulnerable children. They have created their own ripple effects and empowered others to do the same.  

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