SEATTLE — Rachel Beckwith wanted to raise $300 by her ninth birthday to help bring clean water to people in poor countries. Donors from across the world are making sure her wish is realized after her death, perhaps a thousand times over.
Rachel was about $80 short of her goal when she turned 9 in June, and then a horrific highway traffic accident took her life away last week. But news of the Bellevue, Wash., girl’s pluck and selflessness emerged after the tragedy, and it is inspiring thousands of people — most of them strangers — to push her dream along.
By Tuesday afternoon, her webpage that was set up to take contributions for charity:water, a nonprofit organization that brings clean drinking water to people in developing nations, had attracted more than $200,000 in pledges.
“What could have been simply a senseless ending to such a beautiful beginning of your story has turned into something so much more. I hope that if at all possible the obvious compassion so many others have shown in taking up your empathetic cause brings some peace to you and your family,” wrote one anonymous donor who pledged $31.
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Rachel’s mother, Samantha Paul, posted a message Monday on the website: “I am in awe of the overwhelming love to take my daughter’s dream and make it a reality. In the face of unexplainable pain you have provided undeniable hope. Thank you for your generosity! I know Rachel is smiling!”
Rachel’s family attends EastLake Community Church, a nondenominational church of about 4,000 members in Bothell, a suburb northeast of Seattle. The church held a benefit concert in September that helped raise more than $300,000 for charity:water to bring clean water to the Bayaka tribe in the Central African Republic.
Scott Harrison, founder of charity:water, said he and the lead pastor of EastLake Community Church, Ryan Meeks, were in the Central African Republic touring the charity’s waterprojects last week when they learned that Rachel had been seriously injured in an accident.
Rachel was in a car with her mother and younger sister on Interstate 90 when a semitrailer jackknifed into a logging truck, causing a chain-reaction crash involving more than a dozen vehicles, according to media reports. The semi rear-ended the car carrying Rachel, the only person critically injured.
Rachel was taken off life support over the weekend.
Rachel had learned about charity:water’s work through EastLake Church, and on her mycharitywater.org webpage she explained why she wanted to raise $300.
“On June 12th 2011, I'm turning 9. 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. Every penny of the money raised will go directly to fund freshwater projects in developing nations.”
Although she fell $80 short of her birthday goal, that was just the beginning.
Donations started flowing in when community members publicized her wishes after the accident, and really took off after her story appeared on KING 5 TV, in The Seattle Times and other local media outlets.
Rachel’s story also spread on social media, getting a boost from tweets by actress Alyssa Milano and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, KING 5 reported.
“There were 3,600 different donations as of today. Her little dream of helping 15 people has turned into almost 10,000 people and counting,” Harrison told msnbc.com.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets 1000 times her wish.”
Ryan Meeks, the 32-year-old lead pastor at Eastlake Community Church, told KING 5 that Rachel would “light up the room” with her personality and be the first to make friends with new kids.
“There’s nothing natural about losing a 9-year-old girl,” Meeks told the television station. “It’s horrible. But there’s something that we’re attracted to when life comes out of death.”
Many pledges to the webpage have come from abroad (including several from Brazil); most are from people who had never met Rachel but were moved by her story.
“not just Rachel is smiling now, but thousand of people around the world. people feeling the good of donation and people having clean and safe water to drink. Rachel, continue your work to help our planet whereever you are!” wrote one man, Diego Fernandez, who pledged $9 for Rachel’s ninth birthday.
Harrison said the outpouring of generosity is heartwarming — but not necessarily unique.
“I’ve seen things like this happen before where people just rally behind simple ideas like clean water. The selflessness of a 9-year-old girl who said, ‘I don’t want a birthday party, I don’t want gifts, I just want people to have clean water’ — that’s the way it resonates with people. I’m not surprised it’s resonated with Rachel’s friends and church community and people around the world.”
KING 5 TV contributed to this story.