Child’s Birthday Wish Inspires Thousands to Give

Nearly two months ago, a nine year old child died of her injuries following a 13-car accident on an interstate in Bellevue, Washington. But what might have been only a tragic story in a world of tragic stories has turned into a source of inspiration for thousands and a source of hope for thousands more.

“On June 12th, 2011, I’m turning 9,” Rachel Beckwith wrote on a campaign page for myCharity: Water. “I found out that millions of people don’t live to see their 5th birthday. And why? Because they didn’t have access to clean, safe water so I’m celebrating my birthday like never before. I’m asking from everyone I know to donate to my campaign instead of gifts for my birthday.”

Rachel’s goal was to raise $300 for the non-profit charity: water to use in supplying clean drinking water to people from 19 developing countries around the world. She was $80 short of that goal by the time her birthday rolled around. According to her pastors at East Lake Church, Rachel vowed at that point that next year, for her 10th birthday, she would find a way to raise more money.

The chain reaction crash happened on I-90 in Bellevue at about 7:45 in the morning, on July 20, when a semi truck reportedly was unable to stop as it approached traffic congestion. Seven people were taken to the hospital, including critically injured Rachel Beckwith, who had been traveling with her mother and a younger sibling at the time.

With a severed spinal cord and a severe head injury, Rachel spent her final three days on life support. It was, at this time, that the pastors of her church decided to reopen her campaign at charity: water in hopes of helping her fulfill her $300 goal. “Rachel has a dream to make a difference for kids around the world through Charity Water,” the pastors reported on the church website as Rachel’s family was saying their final goodbyes to the little girl. “She has done more than expected. She has done everything she could. Now it’s our turn. Let’s carry on Rachel’s dream and bring clean water to those without.”

Rachel passed away on July 23, 2011, at the age of 9.

With media outlets covering the fate of the child and the church’s fundraising mission in her honor, the donations rolled in… about $1,000 an hour during the weekend she died. By Monday afternoon, five days after the collision and two days after Rachel’s death, $131,176 had been raised for her birthday wish campaign. In August, as Rachel’s story continued to be told, the fundraising surpassed $1 million.

“I am in awe of the overwhelming love to take my daughter’s dream and make it a reality,” Rachel’s mom, Samantha, wrote on her charity: water campaign page on July 25. “In the face of unexplainable pain you have provided undeniable hope. Thank you for your generosity! I know Rachel is smiling!”

Rachel’s 9th Birthday Wish campaign closed on October 1. On the final night of the fundraiser, a $50 donation came in with a message for Rachel: “With tears of pride in our eyes, Papa and I happily donated on your birthday,” the message read. “We were just so moved by your kindness. Here we are on the last day with that same pride. We miss and love you more than words can express. Good night sweet Rachel, good night. Until we see you again.”

The message was signed from Nana and Papa.

With a goal of $300, the campaign raised $1,270,395 through the donations of 31,953 people. According to charity: water, that amount of money will give water to 63,519 people, 12,703 families in 254 communities. But this wasn’t the end of Rachel’s wish or of the help given in her name.

On October 1, a new campaign began for charity: water. It’s called Rachel’s Wish. The goal: $9,000 to purchase a drilling rig in order to provide 80 more wells per a year, to help 40,000 people access clean water. As of Wednesday, October 12, 85 people had donated, for a total of $7,163 raised so far.

As with the former campaign, the new one’s donations often come with messages. In honor of someone’s birthday. In honor of someone else’s wedding. “In memory of 9 Tigray Police Orchestra members (Tigray cultural band) who died in a car accident last week (Sep. 26th, 2011),” an anonymous donor message read on October 3. “Their wish was similar to Rachel’s.”

“Knowing that Rachel’s decision to give up her 9th birthday will now help save thousands of people brings me to tears,” wrote her mother, Samantha, on the new campaign’s page. “I cannot thank you enough for your kind words, stories, individual fund raising efforts and most of all your outpouring of love. I am so proud to be a part of this ongoing campaign. I’m excited to be a part of its future and look forward to continuing on this path Rachel has laid before us.”

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