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Heartbreak and Hope

August 3, 2011

“This story has truly touched me to the core of my soul. Rachel was and is a true angel. Without even knowing her, she has completely changed my life and the lives of so many others with her generosity and compassion. I can only hope to raise my children to be as kind, thoughtful and giving as Rachel was and still is. She is a true inspiration to me. What a legacy she has left behind! My thoughts, prayers, and love go out to her family during this difficult time.” Anonymous Donor, August 3, 2011

A few days before her birthday, little Rachel Beckwith decided what she wanted for her birthday. It wasn’t an iPhone or a doll or clothes. Instead, she learned from her church that millions of African kids have virtually no access to water, and so she decided to make a difference. Rachel’s family attends EastLake Community Church, a nondenominational church of about 4,000 members in a suburb of Seattle. The church held a benefit concert in September that helped raise more than $300,000 for the non-profit organization, Charity:Water, to bring clean water to the Bayaka tribe in the Central Africa Republic. And it became very clear to Rachel as she got closer to her birthday what she truly wanted.

“On June 12th 2011, I’m turning 9,” Rachel wrote on a webpage to her friends and family. “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. Even better, every dollar is ‘proved’ when the projects are complete, and photos and GPS coordinates are posted using Google Earth. My goal is to raise $300 by my birthday, June 12, 2011. Please consider helping me. Thank you so much!!!”

By her birthday, Rachel’s charity webpage,, had raised $220, just $80 short of her goal.

Just six weeks after her birthday, Rachel was in a car with her mother and younger sister on a Seattle interstate highway. Only a few feet away, a semi-trailer jackknifed into a logging truck, causing a chain reaction crash involving more than a dozen vehicles. The semi rear-ended the car carrying Rachel, only injuring her and not her mother and sister.

Within a few days, Rachel was taken off life support and died peacefully in her sleep.

After her accident, donations starting coming when community members publicized Rachel’s birthday wishes and took off when the story appeared on Seattle’s KING5 TV, in the Seattle Times, and on MSNBC. By Tuesday afternoon, over $200,000 was raised on her website and $331,000 when the Seattle Times ran the story. On July 25, Rachel’s mother wrote on her daughter’s 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!” As of today, August 3, 2011, almost $800,000 has been raised and it keeps climbing.

When I read this story, I can’t help remembering when over a million Christmas cards came from all over the world for 5-year-old Noah Biorkman (, who was dying from neuroblastoma cancer. I cannot forget how his mother and father decided to give Noah one last Christmas in November, knowing he was not going to make it till December 25th.  “How could we not,” I wrote then, “have our hope renewed when witnessing such affection from so many strangers? A million wishes had come to South Lyon, Michigan, all with the hope of making Christmas special for a little boy who was facing his last moments of life.

“A million wishes indelibly changed the lives of a boy and his mother and father and grandfather and grandmother and his friends. It made them realize that, as Robert Brooks said, they ‘had a friend in all of us.’”

I can’t help thinking about the 29th anniversary of my brother’s death on July 21, remembering how he, like Rachel, died after a car accident. I think about Noah and how a million wishes spread from all over the world for a little boy, giving his family the belief that there really is good in the world, even when facing the imminent death of one’s little boy from cancer.

I turn to Rachel’s website and read a few of the messages from people who donated to give kids from another side of the world the opportunity to have clean running water. “I can’t stop refreshing this site to see how it continues to grow monetarily, spiritually and lovingly,” wrote Alyssa Carrao today. “People are being touched, changed….seeds are being sown in the souls of thousands. I am so thankful to be a part of this awesome movement. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, but I can’t think of a better way to try and ease that pain….to know your daughter’s life and death were not in vain….I have donated twice already, but can’t help feeling called to scrape up a little bit more (God will provide). In Memory of Rachel Beckwith and In Honor of my children, Aizak (5) and Anja (3) – may they learn from your example.”

I can’t help thinking about the heartache of Rachel’s family and the tears shed for Noah and Kenny and all the other children taken away too soon from this world. But then I look at the smile on Rachel’s face and I know I must donate.

I truly hope she still hears and still sees and is touched by all who now know her name and understand the hope and love she displayed when she was alive. I take a sip of water and imagine it flowing to the darkest reaches of Africa. I close my eyes and think of thousands of people with tears in their eyes…the tears flowing together into a river of clean, clear, life-giving water.

From → Little Mitzvahs

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