In a field of tall, green sugarcane, a 28-year-old is surrounded — everyone wants to talk to this man and for good reason — he is the village leader, the pradhan.
Children can be heard calling out his name from afar. Old men and women begin to crowd in the streets to hear what he has to say.
It’s a far cry from his childhood days, when Neeraj lived in a house made of tin sheets and hay, and when his parents struggled to make enough money to feed him and his two siblings.
His father, Hukam Singh, was a farmer and cultivated a small field for approximately US$46 of income per month.
“When it rained, water would drip into our home through the ceiling,” Hukam says. “We struggled a lot because we were very poor.”
“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
Change came when Neeraj was only five years old, and World Vision child sponsors started supporting kids like him in his community in northern India. At that time, there were no toilets in the community, girls were especially discriminated against and many were abused, and most children had to work instead of attending school. One of the child sponsorship programme’s first projects was to begin children’s groups, where boys and girls got support in lots of practical ways. It was here they were taught about their rights. Soon those groups formed their own child parliament, determined to tackle some of the biggest issues affecting them and their community.
“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, so did Neeraj’s confidence to speak in front of people. At the same time, he began feeling concerned about social issues in and around his village, and so in 2011, he ran in his college’s student union elections – and won! The stage was set — Neeraj had found his passion. After graduating, he began working with political parties and learning from the leaders of his state.
Now Neeraj is a pradhan, or head, of several villages, and he is as passionate as ever about tackling the issues the child parliament started work on all those years ago. When he became the village leader a year ago, Neeraj placed closed circuit television cameras in the villages to help ensure the safety of girls and women. He introduced organic farming training to help smallholder farmers cultivate better crops, and has been actively helping youth find jobs or a small business loan. Neeraj is currently working on projects to avoid water or electricity shortages.
Neeraj has come full circle. He is now a proud World Vision sponsor himself and supports a little girl from Delhi. He has her picture on his office desk, thrilled to be part of the transformation he has experienced first-hand.
His mother, Kanti, is thrilled about the changes her son has brought in 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.
“World Vision supported my son’s education even up to college.”
Neeraj’s story isn’t fully written yet. He is running for a seat in the legislative assembly to become a cabinet minister of his state and the chief minister in 10 to 15 years. He is living proof of the potential child sponsorship can unlock.
“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 says.
You can be the reason a child like Neeraj discovers their potential and transforms the world around them. For countless reasons, sponsor a child today.