Our supporters are dear to us. Whether it’s an individual who donates a few bucks each month, a group of cyclists that rides across the country to raise funds, or someone who signs a petition to make our collective voice louder and more powerful, we’re perpetually indebted to everyone who’s contributed to making health a human right.

One supporter who’s captured our imagination and continually inspires us is Erin Manuel. The 11-year-old hails from a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.  She learned of PIH at the end of 2009, after her mom read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains. Two months later, the earthquake in Haiti happened. Manuel, 7 years old at the time, gave her mom the $3.08 she had saved and asked that it be donated to PIH for Haiti.

But she wasn’t satisfied with the size of her donation. So she decided to make a few bookmarks to sell at a nearby farmers market. “My first goal was $10,” she said during a recent visit to PIH’s Boston office. “Then it was $100, then $1,000.”

Manuel became a regular fixture at the farmers market—and a business-savvy entrepreneur who let market research guide her decisions. She began tracking which bookmark designs sold well (ones that feature turtles, butterflies, birds, and cats) and which didn’t. She pitched them as “great stocking stuffers” when the holidays rolled around, and sold a batch to a nearby bookstore. Altogether, she’s designed about 16 different types of bookmarks, three of which have been retired due to lackluster sales, Manuel says. 

A few of Manuel's best-selling bookmarks. Image: The Manuel family. 

With ambitions simmering and Haiti’s recovery on her mind, Manuel decided to diversify her offerings. When she was given a camera for her 9th birthday, she began shooting beautiful nature scenes, including a plump toad perched on a railroad tie, and turning them into greeting cards. Nowadays, she has about 20 different cards for sale, all of which make for great souvenirs and postcards for those passing through North Carolina. Most recently, she’s taken up the violin. If it’s slow at the farmers market, she’s not afraid to busk the day away in hopes that a passerby will drop a buck or two in her violin case.

While Manuel, who’s entering the sixth grade this fall, says she’ll “always have a connection to PIH,” she doesn’t picture herself going into the field of medicine. Rather, she wants to be an astrophysicist or theoretical physicist.

After three years and countless bookmarks sold, Manuel has raised more than $5,000 for PIH. “I had no idea it would happen,” she says. “Now [my goal] is $10,000.”

Her fundraising efforts have been a transformative experience. “She’s such an introvert that I was a bit worried she’d freeze up when we got to the farmers market,” Erin’s mother says. “But when people have a cause they’re working toward, they can do amazing things.”