This week, Spencer West is trying to change this and help 100,000 people throughout the world gain easy access to clean water. West, 31, was born with a genetic disorder that left the muscles in his legs unable to function normally. At the age of 5, doctors amputated both of his legs in hopes of helping him to gain more mobility.
Not letting this stop him, West is now walking, on his hands, from Edmonton to Calgary, stopping at towns and cities along the QE2 to raise awareness and funds for Free the Children’s “We Walk 4Water” campaign.
The 11-day, 300 kilometre journey that began on May 6, represents the sometimes arduous walk people worldwide have to make every time they need water. West, a Free the Children ambassador and Me to We speaker and trips facilitator, will end his trek in Calgary on May 16.
Travelling with his two friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers, West will be visiting elementary and high schools along the way where smaller “water walks” will take place. It is hoped that each student will be able to fundraise $25 – the amount it takes to bring clean water to someone for the rest of his or her life.
On a short break from walking along the highway (he’ll use a wheelchair when needed), West chatted to us about his experiences and how the “We Walk 4Water” campaign came to be.
How did you become involved with Free the Children?
After I graduated university and got into the real world, I wasn’t happy with the direction of my life. I was looking for a job that made the world a better place. A good friend of mine invited me to go to Kenya to build a school for Free the Children and it was a life-changing experience. It was the first time I had ever seen poverty outside of North America.
The actual moment that changed my life was when I was sitting in the grass with a group of kids and telling the story of how I lost my legs. After I shared everything, a young girl raised her hand and said, “I didn’t know something like this (meaning the loss of my legs) could happen to white people too.” That sentence changed my thinking and helped me recognize how I could potentially use my story to inspire others who look at challenges differently.
How did “We Walk 4Water” come to be?
Last year, my buddies and I did a campaign called “Redefine Possible” where we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and raised over half a million dollars for clean water in East Africa where they were facing one of the largest droughts in more than 60 years. After that, we were looking for the next thing and Free the Children had launched its year-long clean water campaign. We’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta over the last five years working with Me to We and Free the Children including We Day in October in Calgary. We thought, why not bring something that people can actually be a part of? Kilimanjaro was awesome but we didn’t get to interact with anybody. In the last two days, we’ve had people stopping us multiple times on the side of the highway to give us donations of anything from a handful of change to $100, which has been really, really cool.
Where will the money raised go?
There are a few projects. One of the main ones we do is bore holes to access the local aquifers in the communities. We pump the water into giant silos that then trickle down to little kiosks where community members can come and collect water. This is much easier for the women as they do not have to walk far anymore or collect dirty water. There are also rain catching systems and sanitation systems that can be implemented.
What does this journey mean to you?
I think the coolest thing about this is that we’re representing for the most part women and girls. We are three men, who are walking across Alberta, shining light on how to far women and girls actually have to walk to collect water in other countries around the world. We know how much having clean water affects these communities. Clean water is really the key to everything.