Nine-year-old girl’s legacy provides drinking water for thousands in Africa

Rachel Beckwith always possessed a caring heart, naturally reaching out to other kids who were struggling at school or with problems at home.

In kindergarten, she donated her hair to a charity that makes wigs for kids who lost their hair because of cancer treatments. Twice in her short life, she gave up Christmas presents so her family could adopt others in need, according to her mom.

In June 2011 she created a fundraising page on mycharitywater.org, telling her family and friends that she didn’t want presents for her ninth birthday. Instead, she asked them to donate $9, as she was turning 9. Rachel wanted kids like her to have clean water to drink.

She had a big goal: to raise $300 and give 15 people clean drinking water. However she fell a little short off her goal, raising $220, and told her mom that she’d try harder next year.

Unfortunately, a month later, Rachel died from injuries sustained in a tragic car accident.

When the news spread about Rachel’s story and her birthday wish, people all around the world began to donate on her page. Many donated $9 — a dollar for each year of her short life.

Within a month, 30,000 people had given more than $1.2 million.

According to Viktoria Harrison (Creative Director of charity: water), 60,000 people in more than 100 villages now have access to clean drinking water as a result of Rachel’s wish.

“Rachel had a big heart at such a young age and understood and felt the pain of others on the other side of the world,” said one villager. “To give up her birthday presents so others can improve their lives is the most beautiful gift a person can give.”

On the one-year anniversary of the death of her daughter, Samantha Paul travelled to Ethiopia to see firsthand how Rachel’s wish impacted thousands of people.

She said that seeing the need for water in villages and the people’s lives that have benefited from Rachel’s fundraising campaign, helped her focus on Rachel’s gift, instead of her death.

“It made me realize how blessed I am even though I don’t have Rachel with me anymore,” Paul said.

Rachel’s family plans to continue its philanthropic efforts, with a new campaign in honour of Rachel’s younger sister, Sienna, who is celebrating her third birthday. In addition, Paul is making plans to start her own non-profit: Rachel’s Wishing Well, to encourage more people to give back.

“There’s something about Rachel and her story that has touched people and inspired them,” Paul said. “She was such a special girl.”

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