Clean Water Initiatives and the Almighty Mount Kilimanjaro

Posted: | By Sunrise Medical
Clean Water Initiatives and the Almighty Mount Kilimanjaro

About the author

My name is Spencer West. I have had the opportunity to attend more than 60 WE.org Day stages and I have spoken in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. During my travels, I have been lucky enough to meet some notable figures, including: Prince Harry, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Martin Luther King III, Mia Farrow, Jennifer Hudson and Natalie Portman.

Over the years, my humble story has been heard by millions of people. It is my hope that these people have taken my message and passion to heart. I plan to continue empowering people around the world and I will always strive to promote opportunity and acceptance in communities less fortunate than my own.

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How would you react if I told you that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, while confined to a wheelchair? I wouldn’t be surprised if you doubted or even disbelieved my claim. I don’t judge or blame you for these doubts. In fact, if you’d asked me if I could accomplish such a feat 5 years ago, I would have told you that it would be impossible with my physical disability – a genetic ailment that left me with no legs below the pelvis.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong! In 2013, I joined two of my closest friends, Alex and David, and participated in a campaign to raise money for regional clean water initiatives and climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Not only did this experience challenge me physically and mentally; it also inspired generous donations from people all over the world. In total, we managed to raise more than 400,000 pounds (or 660,640 Australian dollars) for local clean water projects. If you want to know how I became involved with this incredible adventure, you have to know a little bit about my story and background. 

Clean Water Initiatives and the Almighty Mount Kilimanjaro

How would you react if I told you that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, while confined to a wheelchair? I wouldn’t be surprised if you doubted or even disbelieved my claim. I don’t judge or blame you for these doubts. In fact, if you’d asked me if I could accomplish such a feat 5 years ago, I would have told you that it would be impossible with my physical disability – a genetic ailment that left me with no legs below the pelvis.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong! In 2013, I joined two of my closest friends, Alex and David, and participated in a campaign to raise money for regional clean water initiatives and climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Not only did this experience challenge me physically and mentally; it also inspired generous donations from people all over the world. In total, we managed to raise more than 400,000 pounds (or 660,640 Australian dollars) for local clean water projects. If you want to know how I became involved with this incredible adventure, you have to know a little bit about my story and background.

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A Sense of Belonging

When they first meet me, people usually think that the loss of my legs must have been the most challenging moment of my life. People who know me better might believe that my life’s greatest struggle was climbing the mighty Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair. They are both incorrect. To be honest, the most challenging period in my life was something that many people experience – finding a sense of professional belonging. In other words, finding an interesting, rewarding and well-paying job.

While I was grinding up the ladder of corporate America, I was contacted by an old friend who asked me if I’d be interested in travelling to East Africa to volunteer with an organisation called WE.org. The WE movement aims to transform lives by providing struggling communities with education, resources, job opportunities, contraceptives and much-needed basic infrastructure. I decided to take part in the lifechanging volunteer trip and I soon arrived in Kenya, where I fell in love with the natural beauty and incredible generosity of people in East Africa. By the time I returned to America, I realised that my true calling was in the field of motivational speaking and regional developmental work.

After this epiphany, I delivered my resignation letter and uprooted my life to travel to Toronto so I could start working as an ambassador and motivational speaker for WE.org. In this capacity, I helped empower hundreds of people to change their life. Nevertheless, I continued to feel twinges of guilt in my new role. After all, I was preaching the merits of volunteer work while I lived a cushy life in Toronto.

Defying the Odds

With the help of WE.org and my two best mates, I created a new campaign ‘Redefining Possible’. The goals or our campaign were simple – successfully climb Mount Kilimanjaro and raise over 400,000 pounds. Early in the planning stage, we decided to allocate the money we raised to clean water initiatives in East Africa- which was in the midst of a devastating drought. However, before I could even think of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I had to find a wheelchair that could cope with rough terrain and sustained elevation. Luckily, I was able to secure a robust, manoeuvrable and lightweight Quickie wheelchair from Sunrise Medical. 

Kilimanjaro.jpgI decided that my best chance of successfully ascending Kilimanjaro was to spend equal time using my wheelchair and using my hands. However, because of the mountain’s rough and uneven terrain, I ended up using my hands for a disproportionate amount of time. Consequently, I have an enormous amount of gratitude for Dave and Alex – they never stopped encouraging me to push through the most difficult sections of the climb. When the terrain became impassable to me, they took upon the thankless task of pushing and carrying me in my Quickie wheelchair.

However, on the day we were due to reach the summit, I got a chance to give back to my friends. After we reached 18,000 feet, Dave and Alex began suffering from altitude sickness. I knew that I couldn’t physically help my friends so I took it upon myself to inspire and encourage them to keep going.

As we trekked higher and higher, the air continued to thin and we needed regular breaks to regather our strength. Eventually, after what felt like weeks, my friends and I made it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Every single one of us felt tears streaming down our face – we had done it! Not only did we scale the mountain, we had managed to exceed our fundraising targets. As a result, WE.org was able to give 12,500 Kenyans access to clean drinking water

I never intended to use my story to create some sort of inspiring parable. From the start of my journey, my goal has always been to show people that anyone can accomplish great things. No matter your background, abilities, age, sex, religion or race, every single one of us has the power to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than us

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