Image: Rachel Beckwith
Courtesy of charity: water
Rachel Beckwith asked friends to donate to her favorite charity rather than give her gifts for her ninth birthday.
By
msnbc.com
updated 11/2/2011 12:20:33 PM ET 2011-11-02T16:20:33

Rachel Beckwith wanted to raise money for a clean-water charity by ask­ing for dona­tions instead of presents for her ninth birthday. Now, her death is inspiring other kids to do the same.

A California man who was touched by Rachel's story has started 9th Birthday, an online campaign to get at least 300 chil­dren to skip presents on their ninth birth­day and ask instead for dona­tions to Rachel's favorite nonprofit, char­ity:water.

"This is a pow­er­ful way to help keep Rachel’s story alive and give her gift of giv­ing to the next generation," David Hissami of San Clemente, Calif., explains on the 9th Birthday website.

Rachel had wanted to raise at least $300 for char­ity:water by the time she turned 9. Someone had told her that there are peo­ple in the world who die because they don’t have access to clean drink­ing water.

Rachel cre­ated a cam­paign on charity: water's site to raise money, but she fell a little short of her goal by the time she turned 9 on June 12.

Just a few weeks later, on July 20, she was severely injured in a 14-vehicle chain-reaction crash on Interstate 90 in Belle­vue, Wash., not far from her home. She died three days later.

News of her charity wish spread after her death, and suddenly donations from across the world poured in to charity:water in her name. Rachel's death also helped keep others alive: One of her donated kidneys was transplanted into a California man , who in turn donated to Rachel's cause.

By the time Rachel's charity birthday campaign came to a close on Sept. 30, friends and strangers had raised more than $1.26 million for clean water in her memory.

Video: Rachel’s cause inspires thousands to give (on this page)

"Throughout each day I look forward to reading your comments and hearing how Rachel's story has touched people all over the world. In this painful time, it has given me inspiration and comfort," Rachel's mother, Samantha Paul, wrote at the time. "Knowing that Rachel's decision to give up her ninth birthday will now help save thousands of people brings me to tears."

Rachel's story also profoundly moved Hissami, a 27-year-old web analytics freelancer.

"I read about the story and it was just one of those things. It really affected me. It really stood out," he said in a phone interview Tuesday with msnbc.com.

Image: David Hissami
David Hissami
David Hissami envisions a day when a child's ninth birthday becomes a day of giving.

"It just somehow occurred to me that so many people were giving to her thing and I wanted to do my part as well. I wanted to do something more long-term, to help people remember her."

Hissami's 9th Birthday isn't affiliated with charity:water or Rachel's mom and the website doesn't solicit donations. Rather, it encourages people to get children to skip presents on his or her ninth birth­day and ask instead for dona­tions to char­ity: water. As of Tuesday, eight children had pledged.

Hissami said he's never met Rachel's family but was inspired by her legacy.  

"I’ve seen so much cynicism out there and just seeing something a person so loving at such a young age, it just really stood out to me."

Hissami hasn't publicized the 9th Birthday campaign yet, but he expects that one day when he has children of his own, they — and perhaps millions of other kids — will also want to give up their ninth birthday presents.

"I hope we might be able to define ninth birthday as a time when kids can donate, think of charity," he said.

Video: Charity founder: ‘Rachel’s impact is profound’ (on this page)

Will McNae, a spokesman for Rachel's family, said the family was "very excited and humbled" that strangers have felt compelled to do something in Rachel's memory and spirit. "The idea of continuing to spread awareness and education around the lesson of generosity is a fantastic thing," he said.

Rachel's family has also started a nonprofit organization, Rachel's Wishing Well Foundation, to carry on her dream of helping people understand the importance of giving.

Paul, Rachel's mom, plans to travel with charity:water to Ethiopia in July 2012 — the one-year anniversary of Rachel’s death —  to visit some of the clean-water projects funded by her campaign.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Rachel’s cause inspires thousands to give

  1. Transcript of: Rachel’s cause inspires thousands to give

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: All this week we've been reporting on heartbreaking stories of suffering from the drought and starvation in East Africa , like the one we brought you a bit earlier in this broadcast. Outside Seattle , a nine-year-old girl who had similar stories decided she could help; she could do her part by forgoing birthday presents and raising money for clean drinking water for other kids. Last weekend that little girl lost her own life in a tragic accident. But that's not where the story ends. NBC 's Lee Cowan explains how even now Rachel Beckwith continues to make a difference.

    LEE COWAN reporting: You might think this story starts and ends on the cold shoulder of I-90 near Seattle , where a polka dot cross now marks the spot of a terrible accident. But it actually started last month, just before Rachel Beckwith 's ninth

    birthday. Instead of asking for a gift, she wanted to give one: clean water to thirsty kids in faraway lands.

    Mr. JEREMY JOHNSON (Eastlake Community Church Assistant Pastor): Her big, crazy goal is to raise $300 so that 15 kids in Africa would have clean, safe water .

    COWAN: She raised $220, just $80 short of her goal. She resolved to try again next year. But then came that accident, too violent for even the biggest of hearts to survive.

    Unidentified Woman: I don't think you have to be a parent to not be able to wrap your mind around this intense pain. We all want to do whatever we can.

    COWAN: The best memorial, they figured, was just to keep Rachel's water drive going. So they did. And then came the flood. Her story spread on Twitter and Facebook . The tally grew first by the day, then by the minute. The owner of this hair salon in Yorba Linda , California , donated because he says Rachel's story mattered.

    Mr. BOB BAKKE (Salon Edge Owner): It just amazes me that someone who's a nine-year-old girl, a small child, can have such a monumental impact.

    COWAN: Well over $600,000 has been donated in Rachel's name. Charity Water has never seen anything like it.

    Mr. SCOTT HARRISON (Charity Water CEO): A little girl with a dream of helping others, considering others more important than herself, inspiring tens of thousands of people around the world to give.

    COWAN: If there's any consolation for her inconsolable parents, it may just be that their daughter touched more lives by nine years old than most of us will in a lifetime. Lee Cowan, NBC News, Seattle .

    HOLT: If you want to learn more about Rachel's dream, and how to contribute yourself, go to our Web site , nightly.msnbc.com.

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