Introducing Julia Neubauer - Care, Kindness, and International Charity

bridges vol. 25, April 2010 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

By Juliet M. Beverly



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"I apologize for that background noise. I do live in an orphanage," said Julia Neubauer with commotion going on around her that only a group of children can make - laughing, playing games or make-believe with all the necessary sound effects.

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A close family: Julia Neubauer and the children of AIC, Pune, India.

Believe it or not, these children had probably been awake since 5:30 a.m., when their daily routine starts. And at 6:30 p.m. they were still going strong. But this is a typical day in Pune, India, where Julia Neubauer, CFO and site director for the Ashraya Initiative for Children (AIC), operates a home for children with care, kindness, and international charity.

Twenty-five-year-old Neubauer is a native of Rohrbach, Austria. Partly inspired by some of her international pen pals and partly wanting to see life outside of the picture-perfect surroundings of her hometown, she set her sights on going abroad. "I grew up in a pretty sheltered environment. I had a very good time in my hometown and very positive experiences growing up, but everything was almost a little too perfect and I wanted to go abroad and see more of the world," said Neubauer.

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A New World

United World College (UWC)

UWC is a global educational NGO that brings together students from all over the world, selected from within their own countries. These students come together at one of the 13 UWC schools and colleges that aim to foster international understanding and peace. Kurt Hahn, a German educationalist, conceived the UWC concept in the 1950s at the peak of the Cold War. He believed that much could be done to overcome religious, cultural, and racial misunderstanding and to avoid conflict, if young people from all over the world could be brought together. It was felt that students aged 16 to 18 would be grounded in their own cultures but still impressionable enough to learn from each other.
With her heart set on the idea of going abroad, seeing new cultures, and learning a new language, Neubauer found an opportunity to attend the Mahindra United World College of India (MUWCI) as an Austrian United World Scholar. She, along with one other Austrian "Ambassador" was selected to attend a United World College (UWC) at the age of 16.

"I was naive in a sense. I had no idea what going to India really meant or what was going on there, and I had no idea what was going to come later. All I knew is that I wanted to go there as my first choice because it seemed really exotic," she said, recalling her preparations for the trip that would most influence her life and career.

Part of the UWC's curriculum is to engage in social services or volunteer work. Since Neubauer had previous experience working with children in Austria, she decided to continue this while attending MUWCI. She committed her service time to teaching English to children in villages and volunteering at an orphanage. "I volunteered at an orphanage that I visited two or three times a week. The conditions were horrible. There were over 200 children and six staff members, very little resources, and overall, hygiene was very poor," said Neubauer.

India contains the world's largest population of "street children" - estimated at over 18 million. The term "street children" is used to define children who are not necessarily orphans, but who work on the street - vending or begging - to contribute to a household income, or children that live on the streets with little or no connection to their families. The UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children 2006 ," states that the exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world.

"Unfortunately most of those children in the orphanage end up back on the streets again because there was no vocational training at the orphanage, no individual attention and no support system," said Neubauer. "After I left India for Princeton, I was sure I wanted to come back and do some type of social service - but I didn't know that I would start doing something more permanent."


A Phone Call

Awarded a full Davis United World College Scholarship to attend Princeton University after completing the MUWCI program, Neubauer made her way to the US in 2003 to study economics and political economy. With the desire to maintain the volunteerism she began in India, she had the feeling that the life she was developing at Princeton wasn't as fulfilling as the work she enjoyed in India.

And then her phone rang.

It just so happened that a former classmate from MUWCI had the same feeling. Neubauer and Elizabeth Sholtys , the CEO and cofounder of AIC, had both worked with street children while in India. It was Sholtys' morning phone call to Neubauer about opening an orphanage in Pune that sparked the founding of AIC. "Ashraya," which means "hope" or "shelter" in Hindi, was founded in April 2004 - a major undertaking for two freshman college students who also obtained joint legal guardianship of AIC's first six children in 2005. While Elizabeth Sholtys was site director in Pune, Neubauer was doing much of the fundraising in the US. After her graduation from Princeton in 2007, she began working for the Princeton University Investment Company (PRINCO) as a financial analyst, while still maintaining her role as CFO at AIC.

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Neubauer, current AIC site director, with Ramu, a child that lives in the AIC home.
"After two years of being at PRINCO, I was starting to feel detached from reality. Even in the financial crisis, Princeton is still a very rich place with very wealthy people who had few of the same problems that many other people deal with in the world," said Neubauer. "Every day we were having phone calls to determine where to put millions of dollars and every night I would come home and write a thank you letter to some one who donated five dollars to AIC - the clash was enormous."  So, Neubauer decided not to continue her position at PRINCO, but made a full-time commitment to take over as site director of AIC in Pune.


The Ashraya Initiative for Children

AIC consists of the residential program, which is the orphanage or "home," and community outreach programs. There are currently five branches of AIC that act as the financial pipelines for the Pune site. The branches are in Montreal, Tokyo, London, Ithaca (New York), and Rohrbach, Austria - a branch Neubauer founded and runs single-handedly. The branches work on fund-raising campaigns, awareness and publicity, and volunteer recruitment, all working together to make sure that the children's home in Pune, and the outreach programs, continue to expand. This "international musketeers" approach to fund-raising and awareness has made the young AIC successful as a nonprofit organization.
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Neubauer and some of the girls from AIC.
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AIC main home.
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Better lives and better opportunities: Neubauer and Ramu reach for the sky.

In "the home," children are sent to school, play sports, and study English. They also receive additional tutoring. The outreach programs were created to extend to the community what the AIC offers to children in its home: The educational outreach serves 150 children who are from slums nearby. At the Educational Outreach Center, children receive academic lessons as well as lessons in health and hygiene, tutoring, and arts and crafts activities.  Since 2009, AIC has expanded its education initiative to begin enrolling new students in the program into private schools with English as the medium of instruction, and providing them with all the necessary clothing and supplies to attend. The health education outreach program focuses on informing the community about health practices and treatments, while the women's empowerment program focuses on its efforts to better the lives of women in the community through self-help and microfinance, health education, and literacy.

In the future, AIC hopes to have a regular medical volunteer program, bringing in Indian and foreign volunteer medical personnel about once a month for free treatment-at-clinic weeks, and to build a school for the growing education outreach program. Neubauer, who was awarded Austrian Volunteer of the Year 2006 by the Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, and Austrian Woman of the Year 2007 by Wienerin - an Austrian women's magazine, will stay on as site director in Pune for at least another year. In the future, she plans to attend graduate school and continue working to further AIC's development.

Around 7:00 pm, the AIC home quiets down:  It's dinnertime - one of the few moments the children are silent. "We don't expect the children to be obligated to AIC for aiding them or housing them, " said Neubauer, "but we do expect them to have better lives and have better opportunities afterwards, and to give back to the world in one way or another."






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This article is based on an interview conducted by the author, Juliet M. Beverly, with Julia Neubauer, Co-Founder and CFO of the Ashraya Initiative for Children.



References:

United Nations Children's Fund. "The State of the World's Children 2006." New York: UNICEF, 2005. <http://www.unicef.org/sowc06/pdfs/sowc06_fullreport.pdf > (8 April 2010).

Sources:

Ashraya Initiative for Children. <http://www.ashrayainitiative.org/doku.php >
(25  March 2010).

InfoChange India News & Features. "Children: Background and Perspective." <http://infochangeindia.org/200210045933/Children/Backgrounder/
Children-Background-Perspective.html > (11 April 2010).

"Majority of street children face sex abuse in India: Study." Times of India, 14 January 2010.  <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/
Majority-of-street-children-face-sex-abuse-in-India-Study/articleshow/5445351.cms > (10 April 2010).

Sidebar "United World College (UWC)" Source:

United World Colleges and Schools. "History" UWC.
<http://www.uwc.org/who_we_are/history/default.aspx > (11 April 2010).

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