From the Field

From sponsored child to local political leader

Neeraj in India was a World Vision sponsored child who went on to become a politician, serving as a mayor-type position in his community.

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.

Neeraj works as a village leader talking to a constituent in India and credits World Vision child sponsorship for him getting to where he is now.
Both old and young reach out to Neeraj when he makes visits across the villages in his work as village leader, which is similar to a mayor position. They trust his work and believe that he truly will help them. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

“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 it rained, water would drip into our home through the ceiling,” Hukam says. “We struggled a lot because we were very poor. But World Vision supported my son’s education even up to college.”

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.

While many children are sponsored through World Vision, like Neeraj in India, for every child helped, four more benefit too, like many of the other children in this photo.
Neeraj, in the top right corner, was a sponsored child and part of several World Vision programs as a child, including a children’s group and child parliament. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

“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 works as a village leader talking to two women constituents in his community and credits World Vision child sponsorship for him getting to where he is today.
When Neeraj became the village lead, he installed closed circuit television cameras in the villages to make girls and women feel safer and to combat violence against them. He also ensures his villages don’t face electricity or water shortages. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

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.

Teacher, 32

Babli is a teacher in India and is committed to helping girls get an education because of the help she received from World Vision as a child.
Babli, now 32, works as a teacher and is committed to even teaching girls for free. When she was a child, she didn’t think she would be able to get an education because her parents couldn’t afford it, but World Vision helped support her education fees. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

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 works at a pharmaceutical company in India now. While he wasn’t a World Vision sponsored child, he benefitted from World Vision programs in his community as a child.
Vishal, 26, works at a pharmaceutical company now. While he wasn’t sponsored, he benefited from World Vision programs in his community as a child. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

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.”

Tailor, 25

Rekha in India now works as a tailor after receiving a sewing machine from World Vision.
When Rekha’s father died when she was younger, World Vision provided a sewing machine and training so that she had a career path to move into and a way to provide for herself. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

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.”

Banker, 30

Sandeep in India sponsors two children through World Vision child sponsorship because of the impact he saw that child sponsorship had on his community.
Sandeep now sponsors two children because he saw how much child sponsorship impacted his life and his community as a child, even though he wasn’t sponsored himself. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Mridula Narayan)

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.

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