West pushes overseas educational advances

Nathan Liewicki
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Legless motivational speaker visits Moose Jaw

Spencer West redefines possible.

Me to We motivational spekaer and Free The Children ambassador Spencer West looks on during an activity during the We Create Change Tour stop at Westmount School Tuesday.

The 33-year-old climbed Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest point – in June 2012 after hearing Kenya was in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years back in 2011.

Attracting internationally recognized attention, West successfully climbed to the top of Kilimanjaro and raised over $500,000 to bring sustainable and clean drinking water projects to more than 56,000 people affected by the widespread drought.

Shortly after he completed the climb, West told Globe and Mail reporter Jake Edmiston that 80 per cent of the climb was done with his hands.

Did we mention West does not have legs?

He lost his legs to a genetic disease at age five. Despite the obvious challenges associated with living from the torso up, West overcame stereotyping and bullying to find his place in today’s world.

On Tuesday, he was the keynote speaker at the We Create Change Tour stop at Westmount School, celebrating the tremendous fundraising efforts by the school’s generosity club for a new school in Kenya.

West, a Free The Children ambassador, told the students when he was their age he was so wrapped up in his own life that he did not truly notice what was going around him, including the opportunity he had to attend school and receive an education.

“Although there were days that I dreaded going to school, nobody was actually physically stopping me from going,” said West. “It wasn't until about six years ago that I realized that everybody had the same opportunities that we do in North America.

“I travelled all the way to Africa and I saw what education looks like and what it means.”

What he saw were young people striving to overcome challenges on a daily basis. It was at that point the proverbial light bulb went off in his brain: provide inspiration and motivational speaking.

“This is definitely not where I pictured myself to be six years ago,” said West. “I was working as an operations director for a salon and spa in the United States, but I was looking for a job that … made the world a better place.

“I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to go to Kenya and see the Work of Free The Children and that's what brought me to be here.”

The part of the cross–Canada We Create Change Tour West has been supporting and speaking on behalf of, is part of Free The Children’s year of education initiative.

“The last two years have been about campaigns that I wanted to do and show students that anything is possible, but this year I wanted to take a bit of a break physically and to thank the students for what they're doing … both locally and globally,” said West.

He also described the stop at Westmount as “one of the coolest stops so far,” but noted there is still plenty of work that needs to be done to expand the reach of education across the world.

“Nineteen years (after it started), Free The Children has built over 650 schools in 16 countries and because of that, over 55,000 students are able to go to school each year,” said West.

The goal, said West, is to build 200 more schools in developing communities around the world, which would go toward cutting into the estimated 123 million children who don’t know how to read and write, 57 million of which don’t have access to education.

According to West, these numbers have a definite possibility of being attained in the future, and if anyone knows a thing or two about redefining possible its Spencer West.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Work of Free The Children, Globe and Mail, Westmount School Cross–Canada

Geographic location: Kenya, Africa, Moose Jaw Tanzania Mount Kilimanjaro Kilimanjaro North America United States Westmount

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