Los Altos, a comfortable city of 28,000, is far from poor, especially considering it was crowned one of the most expensive zip codes in the United States by Forbes Magazine in 2007 and 2008.
With our country on the verge of economic collapse, most of us living here hardly notice a difference, as spanking-new Porsche 911s zoom by our houses or an Aston Martin Vanquish exudes its brilliance at a leisurely pace across town.
For the most part, Los Altos residents have a tendency to take our privileges for granted and, as is true for most people, we are hardly ever able to understand the true meaning of hardship until we meet it face-to-face.
For me, my epiphany came at 14 during the summer of 2006, while I was on vacation, traveling to Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Italy. I had planned this trip to be unlike those I had gone on before, one that would open my eyes for a far different reason than to realize how fortunate I am. In fact, at the time, I had dreams of writing a children's novel about my adventures. Fortunately, my trip was not only inspirational but so much more.
Pakistan was by far the most deprived country I visited that year. As I landed at the Lahore International Airport in one of Pakistan's major cities, a porter whose income came exclusively from carrying passengers' baggage from one location to another immediately assisted me.
This was only the tip of the iceberg. The rest I saw much later in my journey as I lodged in Pakistan's cosmopolitan capital of Islamabad, a city influenced by different cultures. Ambassadors from many nations reside there as well as Bangladeshis and Indians from the time of Pakistan's partition in 1947.
It was when I passed through the smaller, mountainous regions of Pakistan during the five-hour road trip from Lahore to Islamabad that I first saw the gruesome face of poverty. A young girl who could not have been much older than 17 sat at the edge of the road with her head drooping so low it seemed it may have been too heavy for her skeletal neck to hold up. A large shawl concealed her malnourished figure while faded hair hid her weather-beaten face. I couldn't help but imagine the hard life she must live, without electricity, running water or sanitary latrines, all basic amenities for Americans. From what I knew, there was not a school within miles of this village for children to obtain an education. I felt so helpless and, needless to say, embarrassed at never appreciating my privileges.
Going to local markets was no different. The crippled who could not work and young children begged on the sides of busy streets or in crowded neighborhoods, where often they would be beaten or, worse, killed. I watched shop owners pull down sheets of corrugated tin used as a substitute for doors at dusk, when it was time to finally go home after a hard day at work.
Fortunately, I have thought of a way to reach out to countries with conditions similar to those of Pakistan. I can't possibly enjoy all the conveniences of Los Altos without sharing just a little bit if it with the rest of the world. For that reason, I have taken the initiative to manage a club, Free the Children, at Los Altos High School. Working with a larger organization, our main goal is to raise money to build schools in countries less fortunate while raising awareness of their economic, political and social conditions. Really, it's the least I can do.
Sara Raza is a Los Altos High School student.