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Light, Hope, and Miracles This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The average American family wastes about $600 worth of food every year.

How many times have you thrown away pizza because you didn't like the crust? How many bananas have you refused to eat because they were too brown or soft? How many half-full cans of soda have you seen scattered around after a party?

As the more fortunate people of this world, we often forget about the millions who are stuck in the spiraling black hole of poverty. I am no different. I am one of the world's pickiest eaters and I take my privileged life for granted more than I like to admit. However, I have seen reality, and I have forever been scarred by it.

On a breezy, pleasant night in a city in India, I was with my family in a small shopping square. It was the eve of Diwali, India's biggest festival of the year. We had picked up several boxes of sweets to enjoy the next day, decorated our house with colorful lights and flowers, and had just enjoyed a delicious meal together. With my grandparents on either side of me, my cousins' laughter in the background, and my parents strolling comfortably a few steps ahead, I was completely content. My heart was full of joy and the beautiful magic of ­Diwali.

All of a sudden I felt a gentle tug on my shirt. Whirling around, I looked down into the big, brown eyes of a child. In a raspy voice, the little girl whispered “Paisa,” which is Hindi for “money.” I couldn't think of anything to say. I was lost in the desperation of her eyes, the flies in her hair, and the frailness of her body.

When I finally broke away from her stare, I saw more children hidden in the darkness of the night. I glanced at my family a few steps ahead, nicely dressed, stomachs full, and laughing merrily. Then I looked back at the children, half-naked with their bones showing through their skin.

The little girl who had approached me was still watching hopefully; I was one of the few people who hadn't just impatiently waved her away. I asked my father for some money to give her. My family looked at me with sympathy but shook their heads. I was stunned. What was wrong with giving one starving girl some money?

As much as I insisted, my family was stubborn. My uncle put his arm around my shoulders and led me away. Pain shot through my heart as I tore my gaze from the heartbroken girl. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as anger and frustration built up inside me. How could my own family be so cruel? I began seeing more and more poor children everywhere.

My mind was whirling furiously. How could we be so heartless? We would go home to our cozy beds surrounded by love and warmth. Tomorrow we would wake up under a sturdy roof and be embraced by people we love. We would enjoy more food than we could eat, exchange sweets, and celebrate a day of lights and hope.

What about that little girl? What hope did she have? How did she feel watching people like us celebrate? Did she hate us? Did she feel anger? Or had she lost all hope?

Diwali celebrates the power of hope and miracles, but the people who need the hope most have no reason to believe in it. What is the point of such holidays if they never reach the people who need them most?

These thoughts were flooding my mind as I stood in the shopping square. My family tried to console me but the tears kept coming as I realized the unfairness of it all. I refused to leave unless I helped that one girl. My grandfather tried to explain that she wouldn't even get to keep the money. It would go to her parents, who most likely would use it to buy drugs or alcohol, he claimed.

I wondered how much of life she had already experienced. I needed to give her something. Something only she would enjoy. A light bulb went off in my head. Drying my tears, I took my grandfather to the closest ice cream shop and bought a chocolate-vanilla swirl loaded with rainbow sprinkles. Outside, the girl was still standing where I had left her, a forlorn look on her face.

As I offered her the ice cream, we locked gazes for a second time. This time there was awe in her beautiful brown eyes. Our hands touched around the cone. As I saw happiness and hope light up her face, I knew that this was the true purpose of Diwali, a festival of light, hope, and miracles.

That night I realized that every child counts. Most people don't help one person because they know there are millions more in need out in the world. They wonder what is the point of helping one child if millions are still starving? The intimidating scale of poverty often scares people from even beginning to help; yet, that's the opposite of what should happen. Helping those in need one by one is the only way we will be able to fight poverty. Keeping them in mind even in our day to day lives will make a difference.

Ask yourself how much of the extra-large burger you order will end up in the trash. Before making a face when given a banana, remember how many children in the world eat fruit only in their dreams. It's little thoughts like these that will fight poverty. All we need is a light bulb in our minds, hope in our hearts, and the trust that miracles do happen.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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she.writes.with.red.ink said...
Mar. 28, 2011 at 11:52 pm:
Omigosh. This is soo good. X
 
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