Neha Gupta: Turning life struggles into empowered action

KYW Newsradio profiles one of the 10th annual Women's Achievement Awards honorees

Cherri Gregg
June 14, 2019 - 11:54 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Neha Gupta has had a passion for helping others since childhood.

"I definitely was a pretty fearless kid that always spoke my mind," said the now 22-year-old.

Born in New Zealand but raised in Philadelphia, the future doctor's mission to give back grew out of her summer trips to her parents’ homeland of India. She’d visit orphanages, give books and toys to children, and spend time reading with them.

"I loved going there so much," she said. “It was never a chore for me.”

As Gupta grew older, however, she became more aware of major differences between her life and the lives of the children she loved so much.

"They didn't have the means to go to school, especially the girls in the orphanage," she said. “They didn't have the ability to go to the doctor if they got sick, and they didn't have anyone to love them or to support them."

So at 9 years old, Gupta decided to do something impactful: She started her own nonprofit, called Empower Orphans. It provides the kids with an education, health care and mentorship programs, empowering them to take action, too.

"It was something that I felt like I needed to do — raise my voice so all these other kids could have them, too," she added.

What started as an endeavor to help 360 kids in one Indian orphanage expanded over the years, eventually reaching 30,000 kids across four countries: India, the U.S., Haiti and Uganda. 

In India, Empower Orphans has established five libraries, four computer labs, a sewing center, 20 health camps, and an entrepreneurship workshop for young women.

The organization has since raised $2.5 million in cash and kind. Gupta was named the 2014 recipient of the International Children's Peace Prize, an award given each year to an individual dedicated to children's rights. Malala Yousafzai, a renowned Pakistani activist for female education, is a past recipient.

"It was so humbling because I didn't think I deserved it," she said of the award, which she was given to her by Desmond Tutu, "because I have always just kind of done what I believed was necessary."

Gupta has accomplished much more than the average 22 year old. She’s spoken around the world about children's rights. She is a motivational speaker, empowering young adults at TEDx events and taking her influence on policy to the United Nations, Thomson Reuters Trust Women Conference and other global platforms. Gupta has also been featured in magazines, newspapers and TV programs across the world.

But life has had its share of personal challenges for Gupta. As a freshman at Penn State, she fell from a height of 6 feet, hitting her head hard on concrete. The fall resulted in a severe concussion that took her nearly three years to overcome.

"Some doctors told me I was lucky to be alive," she said. "When you go through those things, it teaches you how resilient you are."

Throughout her rehabilitation, she realized she wanted to help others overcome the hurdles of a major brain injury. She joined the Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service at Penn State to learn how to conduct concussion research with EEGs, MRIs and virtual reality. She’ll start medical school at Penn State next month.

All of Gupta’s choices and life experiences have culminated in efforts to become a doctor.

"Being a physician is not about what you learn from the textbooks," she added. “Yes, you have to study, but it's about sitting down with a patient understanding what the patient's needs are — whether you are in Philadelphia or a rural village in India.

“And that's what has been my main focus: understanding the needs and knowing how to address them. So I am excited."

You can meet Gupta and the other amazing women honored this year at the KYW Newsradio Women’s Achievement Awards on June 27.