Amrita, Age 14, Menlo Park, CA

The sun was setting and the tiny shops were starting to close their little wooden doors. But elsewhere, it was all just getting started. The city of Madrid, Spain, was coming to life. On the large historic plaza, performers and skaters were doing daring acts that made me gasp with disbelief. But what really got my attention were the men in the shadows hawking knockoff purses and cheap sunglasses. They were desperately trying to sell their bags, shouting at American tourists that it was just “ten euros!” But then, the police came and the men ran, shoving everything into their drawstring trash bags, ignoring the stray sunglasses and paper fans that cluttered the ground. The policeman got out of his car, paced a few steps, and then drove off again. As soon as the police car was out of sight, the men cautiously set up their wares again. The plaza was back to normal with the American tourists purchasing cheap souvenirs.

It occurred to me that these men needed a permit to sell on the streets, but they probably couldn’t afford one or did not have the legal paperwork to get a permit. Here I was vacationing in Europe with my family enjoying the sights, not thinking about anything else. But seeing these men, struggling to sell their fake Prada handbags in order to provide themselves with dinner for the night, made me realize how much inequality there was in the world and how little I could do about it.

It made me sad to think that these people came thousands of miles from their homeland in Africa in search of a better life only to find themselves constantly running from the authorities just to make ends meet. Nobody wants to spend their life avoiding the police just because they don’t have a permit to sell on the streets. I felt grateful to be where I was and although I didn’t want to acknowledge the hardships others were dealing with, I knew I had to think about my life differently.

Although we can’t do a whole lot at this age, we can do certain things to help others. Suppose your parents give you an allowance of $5 a week to buy whatever you want. Perhaps you use the money to buy a Starbucks Frappuccino. But the sugary drink only gives you pleasure for about twenty minutes. Then the money is gone and the drink is gone. What if you could use that $5 differently? What if that $5 could be used to benefit others who are less privileged than you?

According to the United Nations Food Program, $50 can feed one child in the developing world for an entire year. So if I was willing to give up just one Frappuccino each month, it could feed a hungry child for that entire month. Looking at the tradeoff, depriving myself of one Frappuccino in exchange for feeding a hungry child for one month is such a small sacrifice in exchange for such an immense result. It’s amazing to me how giving up something so small can have such a tremendous impact in someone’s life on the other side of the world.

Now the truth is, nobody wants to give away what he or she has, especially hard earned money. I enjoy Frappuccinos and I wouldn’t want to stop drinking them. Generosity is not something that should necessarily take a lot away from you. The media writes about the super wealthy people who donate large amounts of money. Many people believe that only the extremely wealthy can impact the world. Contrary to popular belief, the middle class in America actually donates more money than the affluent people. For example in the year 2013, people who earned $50,000 donated on average 3.5% of their income but people who earned $500,000 donated on average only 2.5% of their income. One explanation for this is that people who have less have a better awareness of the hardships of life and are more willing to help others.

Many people ignore destitution and disregard the disadvantaged population. According to, there are approximately 2.2 billion children in the world, and 1 billion are currently in poverty.
Richard Dawkins, a well-known biologist and writer, has said, “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.” I disagree with this quote because nobody is born with a certain trait. Children learn from their environment and model the behavior of their parents.

So why would anyone, especially in such a competitive society as ours, look out for somebody else’s interests? It’s been repeatedly proven that altruism boosts our own personal contentment. It has also been shown that a “connection to others” satisfies us. That is why people donate money or volunteer their time. Generosity doesn’t just have to be about money. We can be generous with our time or with our thoughts. Everyone can be generous; you don’t have to be extraordinary to make a difference in the world. Even the smallest act of generosity can make the world a better place.

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