Rachel Beckwith was just 9 years old when her life ended tragically, but her unselfish acts touched many during her short lifetime and have since been felt across continents in the past several weeks.
In an op-ed column celebrating the Seattle-area do-gooder, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof detailed how Rachel showed early humanitarian promise at only age 5 after learning about Locks of Love, which uses hair donations to make wigs for children that have lost their own hair because of cancer or other diseases. Off went her long hair to Locks of Love, an act she repeated a few years later once her hair grew long enough again.
When she was 8 years old, her church began raising money to build wells in Africa through an organization called charity: water. According to the Huffington Post, when celebrating her 9th birthday in June, Rachel asked friends and family not to give gifts but contribute to the charity instead. Her aunt Veronica Del Rosario told CNN, "She cares about other people more than herself. For her birthday, she didn't want any presents…She wanted everyone to give money so that children and parents could have water." A little disappointed, Rachel fell $80 short of the goal of $300 she’d set on her birthday page.
Only weeks later, on July 20, as Rachel was riding with her family on the highway, their car was hit by a semi truck. Although the rest of her family was unhurt, Rachel’s spinal cord was severed, leaving her critically injured. Kristof recounts what happened next, as church members and friends, seeking some way of showing support, began donating to her page. “As family and friends gathered around Rachel’s bedside, they were able to tell her – even not knowing whether she couldn’t hear them – that she had exceeded the $47,544 that the singer Justin Bieber had raised for charity:water on his 17th birthday.”
When her parents had to make the decision to remove her from life support, they donated her hair a final time to Locks of Love, and her organs to other children. Kristof noted contributions from donors such as one 5-year-old girl, who sent in the $2.27 contents of her piggy bank. The Huffington Post story told of a $5 donation posted from an 8-year-old boy, along with a note: “I wish I could give more, but I’m only 8 years old and this is my week’s allowance. I hope it goes up to at least $1,000,000.”
Donations on Rachel’s charity:water page have since surpassed $1.2 million. “What has been so inspiring about Rachel is that she has taught the adults,” Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water, told Kristof.
The story, says Kristof, is emblematic of a long history of youth activism, though today’s kids don’t just protest against injustices, they act on them. May we take a note from Rachel’s book and act on the things that touch our hearts.