A little girl who cared

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    Bear with me. I am going to share 3 paragraphs, and then explain.

    In the midst of this grim summer, my faith in humanity has been restored by the saga of Rachel Beckwith. She could teach my generation a great deal about maturity and unselfishness – even though she’s just 9 years old, or was when she died on July 23.

    Rachel lived outside Seattle and early on showed a desire to give back. At age 5, she learned at school about an organization called Locks of Love, which uses hair donations to make wigs for children who have lost their own hair because of cancer or other diseases. Rachel then asked to have her long hair shorn off and sent to Locks of Love.

    “She said she wanted to help the cancer kids,” her mother, Samantha Paul, told me. After the haircut, Rachel announced that she would grow her hair long again and donate it again after a few years to Locks of Love. And that’s what she did.

    This is from Rachel’s Last Fundraiser, a column this morning by Nicholas Kristof.   I have now quoted all I am going to quote.

    You should read the entire column, then the rest of this diary will be unnecessary, and I will be more than happy.

    In case I haven’t persuaded you, please keep reading.  If you have read the column, feel welcome to keep reading.

    Kristof sets the frame for telling us about Rachel by noting how every generation seems to complain about its young people, but that he has found they are often not as cynical and self-absorbed as the adults around them.  From my work with adolescents I know this to be true.   The generosity and openness and caring of the vast majority of my students sometimes blows me away.  As I read about Rachel, I thought about Anthony, who will be a senior this year and has just asked me to write his college recommendations, just as last Spring he asked me to write his recommendation for a summer internship.   Anthony is bright, and was an A student in AP Government as a sophomore.  He is also one of two students who volunteered with me in a free dental clinic in March that year.  I have written about him before –  when he was very young he noticed that a homeless man he often saw in their neighborhood had disappeared.  It was winter. He asked his parents what had happened to him, and they suggested he had frozen to death.  He then asked why they couldn’t do something about it, and got their church to open one of its buildings on cold nights as a warming center.

    You have read about Rachel and her hair.   She did more.  When she was 8 her church was raising money for drilling wells in Africa through charity:water, itself founded by a young man who used his gift with social media to help others.  She decided that instead of a 9th birthday party she asked friends to donate $9 each instead of presents, setting a goal of $300 by her birthday on June 12.  She had raised “only” $220.   Then on July 20 Rachel’s family car was hit by a truck as part of  multi-vehicle pileup.  She was seriously injured, and would never regain consciousness.

    Church members and friends began donating to her birthday page in her honor, even though when her parents told her they could not tell if she could hear them.  Donations surged, surpassing the more than $47,000 Justin Bieber had raised for the same charity on his 17th birthday.

    When it became clear that Rachel would not recover, her family decided to take her off life support, trimming her hair one more time for Locks of Love, and donating her organs for the benefit of other children.

    That was truly Rachel’s last fundraiser.   Except that it wasn’t.

    As the tale of Rachel began to spread, so did the generosity of others in her honor, including a child who sent in all $2.27 from her piggy bank.  Kristof tells us that to date the contributions to charity:water in Rachel’s honor, which includes Africans awed by her caring about their continent and Kristof himself, have exceeded $850,000 dollars.

    As I write this, it has received $9.00 more.   Let me explain.

    I went to Rachel’s 9th Birthday Wish Page where I read two statements.

    The first was from Rachel, when she put up the page:  

    On June 12th 2011, I’m turning 9. 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!!!

    The second is from her mom:  

    Posted July 25, 2011 by Rachel’s Mom, Samantha

    I am in awe of the overwhelming love to take my daughters 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!

    Money may be tight in our household, but not so tight I could not honor Rachel’s generosity by my own contribution of $9.00

    Please, if you have not already read all of Kristof’s piece, do so now, especially the last few paragraphs.

    To honor her, her mother is going to Africa, to see the wells her generosity has helped provide, to meet the people.

    I said I would quote no more.  Please forgive me, but I will also quote the final line from Kristof, because it is appropriate:

    Rachel Beckwith, R.I.P., and may our generation learn from yours.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      I have read Rachel’s story before, but thank you so much for sharing her story with Blue Virginia. She is a teacher to all adults who have lost – or never found – the gift of compassion.