In the midst of fields of tall, green sugarcane are well-constructed roads that lead into one of the many villages that 28-year-old Neeraj looks after as a pradhan, or village lead, in the state of Uttarakhand, in northern India. As he walks through the village, voices of children calling out his name are heard from afar. Old men and women are beginning to crowd the streets. In a flash, people young and old surround Neeraj and try to talk to him. While some are simply eager to greet him, others want to share their problems. He is the head of their village (similar to a mayor in the U.S.) yet they seem fond of him for his friendly and loving nature.
“I want to give back to the families in these villages and do good things for them the way World Vision did for me and brought me to where I am today,” says Neeraj, dressed in fashionable dress pants, a shortsleeved shirt, and a cotton Nehru jacket — the attire of a modern-day politician in India. He adds, “I became a politician only because I believe that such a person has the power and influence to help people in every way.”
Neeraj’s father, Hukam Singh, 58, is a farmer, and his mother, Kanti Devi, 52, is a homemaker. When Neeraj was growing up, the family lived in a house built of tin sheets and hay. Hukam used to cultivate a small field, earning about US$46 a month — which sometimes wasn’t even enough to feed Neeraj and his three siblings.
When Neeraj was only 5 years old, World Vision began working with his village, connecting 60 to 70 children — including Neeraj — with sponsors.
At that time there were no toilets, girls were especially discriminated against and abused, and most children had to work instead of attending school.
World Vision soon began children’s groups where boys and girls were taught about their rights, and they formed a child parliament from those groups in 2001.
“This was the best part of the journey,” Neeraj says. “I developed an interest in social activities from my childhood because of this child parliament. I was part of various ministries, and we were also taken to Delhi, Chennai, and other places to meet politicians.”
As he grew, Neeraj’s confidence about speaking in front of people also grew, and he began feeling concerned about social issues in and around his village. In 2011, he ran in his college’s student union elections and won. After graduating, Neeraj began working with political parties and learning from the leaders of his state.
“I can say this from the depth of my heart and with sincerity that if World Vision didn’t come into my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Neeraj shares.
Now he is the head of several villages. A year ago, Neeraj placed closed circuit television cameras in the villages to help ensure the safety of girls and women. He initiated trainings on organic farming to help smallholder farmers cultivate better crops, and has been actively helping youth find jobs or providing them with entrepreneurial loans.
Neeraj ensures that none of the villages under his care face a shortage of water and electricity. He is also running for a seat in the legislative assembly to become a cabinet minister of Uttarakhand. He hopes to become the chief minister of the state in 10 to 15 years.
Kanti is thrilled about the changes her son has brought into their lives. “Earlier, we used to struggle for our own food. Now we provide food to those in need. I’m so proud of my son, especially because of his heart to help others, and World Vision is instrumental in bringing this change in his life as well as our lives,” she says, smiling.
Today, besides helping thousands of people in his hometown, Neeraj is also a proud World Vision sponsor of a little girl from Delhi. He has placed her picture on his office desk to show everyone his own sponsored child, whose life he believes will also be transformed through sponsorship.
More benefit too
Because of our community-focused solutions, for every child you help, four more children benefit, too.
Babli, Vishal, Rekha, and Sandeep were four children who participated in World Vision sponsorship programs in Neeraj’s community, though unlike him, they weren’t sponsored. After being impacted by World Vision’s work in their community and lives, all four of them also want to give back to others, thanks to the values instilled through those programs.
When Babli was in eighth grade, her parents said they could no longer afford her school fees. She was able to keep studying thanks to encouragement from the local World Vision children’s group and financial support from World Vision.
“I don’t want other girls to suffer and feel helpless without having a chance to be educated,” says Babli. “That’s why I teach girls in my community basic subjects for free. Education is extremely crucial for a family to move forward in life.”
Lab technician, 26
Vishal’s family had so little growing up that they couldn’t send him to school, but he was able to complete his education with World Vision’s help.
“Today, I’m employed in such a good company with a steady income because of being a part of every program that World Vision conducted in our community when I was a child,” says Vishal. “We were so poor that we didn’t have a proper house to stay [in], leave alone [money to] go to school. If I was supported to complete my education, I want to help other children like me. I’m already supporting a child from my community for his education.”
With tears in her eyes, Rekha recollects how World Vision came to support her and her family when she lost her father. The sewing machine she received through World Vision changed everything, eventually giving her a career.
“I tell everyone in my community that I will teach them tailoring for free,” says Rekha. “I’m already training four to five girls. I know the struggles we faced and how much this machine has helped me. I want others also to have some skills to have a peaceful and better life.”
Sitting in his cubicle at a national bank, Sandeep reflects on his childhood. “If not for World Vision,” he says, “I may not be sitting in this bank as a banker.”
“[World Vision] encouraged me, supported me, and provided all the guidance I required to be successful in life,” says Sandeep. “Now, I sponsor two children to help them complete their education. It was only the day I began sponsoring them [that] I felt satisfied with my life.”