American Wins International Children's Peace Prize

Neha Gupta became the first ever American to be awarded the prize

ByABC News
November 18, 2014, 11:13 AM

— -- Neha Gupta became the first ever American today to be awarded the Children’s International Peace Prize in The Hague, Netherlands.

The prize is awarded annually to a child, anywhere in the world, for his or her dedication to children’s rights.

Last week, in an interview for “This Week,” Gupta remarked to ABC’s Susan Saulny: "It’s such an honor to know that i was nominated for this award."

Gupta began her astounding work when she was just a child herself, visiting her parents' native India nine years ago. Carrying out a family tradition of celebrating birthdays by delivering gifts to orphans, she was struck by the condition these children were living in.

"The place was just really in shambles," Gupta told Saulny. "I didn't want to accept these things. These are things i wanted to fix."

She moved to fix them quickly, any way that she could. Back home in Pennsylvania, she made a bold move, deciding to sell all of her toys to raise money for the orphans she had met in India.

"We just put it out on our driveway and people came, bought things and it turned out to be such a successful event,” Gupta said. “From that one event we raised $700 and I’ve wanted to keep going.”

Gupta kept going, selling crafts door to door and collecting corporate donations in her dad’s SUV. Nine years later, now an 18-year-old college student, she runs Empower Orphans, a global charity that has raised $1.3 million. The organization reaches orphans in the U.S. and abroad, helping to build classrooms, buy books, equip computer labs, pay for health exams, supply water and buy sewing machines to empower other young women to start their own businesses.

“This sewing machine that i bought for this girl was able to change her life,” Gupta told Saulny. “She went home. She started her own business and she was able to support her entire family.”

Gupta follows perhaps the most famous children’s rights activists Malala Yousafzai, who won the award last year. The two remarkable young women recently had a chance to meet.

"Honestly, I was about to cry! I felt so happy!" Gupta told Saulny about meeting Malala.

Despite all of her extraordinary successes, Gupta describes herself as just an ordinary teenager who found her calling early in life.

That bit of serendipity has touched the lives of more than 25,000 children so far.

"People I know and people I didn’t even know were willing to help, to get involved. So that meant so much to me."