Late Rachel Beckwith’s campaign for clean water lives on

July 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The deluge of donations inspired by a local girl means clean water is available to 60,000 people in remote parts of Africa.

Rachel Beckwith

In July 2011, 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith died after a rush-hour pileup along Interstate 90. In the aftermath, a cause she championed in life — clean water projects in developing nations — garnered international attention and more than $1 million in donations.

Donations to the New York-based nonprofit organization charity: water reached $1.2 million in the months after Rachel died. Donations came in increments large and small from about 30,000 people around the globe.

Rachel’s mother, Samantha Paul, pledged to travel to Africa to see the results and, on July 23, Paul joined Rachel’s grandparents and representatives from charity: water in Ethiopia. The journey commemorated a year since Rachel’s campaign.

Charity: water sent 100 percent of donations from Rachel’s campaign to partners in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia.

Paul and the others drank from a well funded by donations to Rachel’s campaign. Residents in Bahra unveiled a marble plaque to honor her.

Rachel turned 9 in June 2011 and, rather than birthday gifts, asked friends and family members to donate $9 to charity: water. The young philanthropist set a $300 goal — enough to provide clean water for 15 people — but came up $80 short.

Then came the accident, and people close to Rachel suggested donations to charity: water to honor her memory.

How to help

Rachel Beckwith asked people to donate to charity: water as a birthday gift. Now, people can donate to Rachel’s Birthday Wish for Sienna as a tribute to the late 9-year-old girl. Donate at the organization’s website,

On the Web

See video from Samantha Paul’s journey to Ethiopia on the charity: water blog,

Donations surged after Paul discussed Rachel’s campaign in interviews on “Today” on NBC and “The Early Show” on CBS. In August 2011, Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, highlighted Rachel’s mission to raise funds for charity: water.

“In the midst of this grim summer, my faith in humanity has been restored by the saga of Rachel Beckwith,” Kristof wrote.

Rachel continues to inspire philanthropy.

Paul launched a campaign to raise $90,000 for charity: water to celebrate the birthday of Rachel’s beloved sister Sienna. Donors contributed more than $18,000 by July 27.

“I am still blown away by the outcome of Rachel’s continued campaigns for clean drinking water,” Paul recalled in a post on the fundraising website. “I thank every day that we have been blessed during this tragedy with such love and support from around the globe.”

Overall, charity: water has completed more than 6,000 projects to provide clean water to more than 2.5 million people in 20 countries.

“Sienna will have her third birthday on Aug. 22 and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate then to honor Rachel and bring clean water to those who need it,” Paul wrote.

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