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Rachel’s legacy inspires other kids to give

by Matthew Roszak on November 2nd, 2011

9th Birthday campaign: Skip presents in favor of dona­tions to her char­ity

By James Eng

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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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