Did you guys have any close calls or scary situations during the climb?
We did. Everyone was sick at some point. If not dysentery it was infections. I had headaches for the first two days, I was stressing trying to make sure everything was happening. My team and I were running around back and forth, and running around is not the way you are supposed to deal with a mountain. We were racing to production tents, then racing back for approval on things, and building things, and shooting things – we had a documentary team with us shooting everything. We had to make sure that everybody was healthy, so we had medics running around. We all had some issues on the mountain. Some of that stuff that was more significant showed up on the last day. We have a documentary that is airing on MTV on the 14th of March which kind of outlines all of that stuff.
What did it mean to you to have these successful celebrities put themselves in a position to where they were taking real risks on behalf of this cause to support the project?
Luckily these people are my friends for the most part. I’ve known Jess [Jessica Biel] for a long time, for at least a few years. I’ve known Santi [White] for a long time. I’ve known Lupe [Fiasco] for like a few years, if not four years or so. I’ve known Isabel [Lucas] for five years. Emile [Hirsch] and I have met each other a few times and we’ve hung out. I kind off grew to know him the last few minutes because he came on last. He ended up being the one who went in Justin Timberlake’s stead because Justin was attached to a film he wasn’t able to get out of shooting, and he was really devastated that he couldn’t make it. All the people on the climb are people I know and they knew who I was doing it for, my dad. They knew why I was doing it and what it meant to me, and they care about me as a person.
It’s a tremendous accomplishment to be able to pull this climb off themselves and to be able to get to the top, and that’s probably some of the impetus for them going as well, but for the most part I really believe that, to a great degree, they have such a good heart and know that this is for the right reasons, but to top it off it really focuses on a friend of theirs who could have been one of those kids drinking that water…a friend of theirs who’s father fought through so much to be able to get out and to be able to save his inheritance, his future, his legacy. For them that was very powerful. My dad came to see everybody off at the Dulles Airport, and he told everybody, “you will get to the top of this mountain and all of your worries will be below you, and in that moment when you are closest to heaven you will have a chance to express the truest things to you,” and he really impressed upon them that they’re doing something powerful for the world – taking a personal risk on behalf of those that have no voice. I think everyone knew that before they signed on, but I think it was just way more powerful when they literally were on their way. It’s just an honor to have friends who are that powerful in their convictions and at the same time humble even with as much notoriety as they have; humble enough to realize they have a responsibility to their brothers and sister in the world. It makes me feel honored that I attracted those people into my life and that they would even have me in theirs.
Have you had a chance to reflect with your dad on the experience given that he was the catalyst that inspired you to go down this road to begin with?
… it was just as devastating to see people not know that what they were drinking could possible kill them, children especially.
I was blessed enough to be able to go to Ethiopia with my dad right after the climb. He flew into Ethiopia and I flew in he day after we came down, and he took me to where he was born and I had never seen it. He showed me the watering hole that he drank from and unlike the water in Tanzania, was was brown and muddy, the water where was from was green and full of algae, with the same kind of mosquitos, and the same kind of animals drinking from it. He told me how he would just cup his hands and would drink from it.
This countryside was gorgeous, the trees were magnificent, the sun was bursting through the clouds like God was there with these people. There were kids running around herding the cows and running along with their donkeys and their burros. They were living well and they were people drinking from this water. It wasn’t as devastating of a situation as it was in Tanzania, but it was just as devastating to see people not know that what they were drinking could possible kill them, children especially. I got to tell my dad about the climb and how amazing it was, but it literally was a come-to-reality moment to see that this still exists today.
My dad is just a super-humble, beautiful guy, and he was just so overwhelmed that something this huge could have been born out of the beautiful spirit that he had to just go dig a well where he was born and help the people there educate themselves on what waterborne diseases were so they wouldn’t die. It was to him something that can’t be expressed, and it is to me something that can’t be expresed, and I’m a little dumbfounded that we pulled it off. I just think that it had to be done, and it had to be done by me because it was given to me to do. I think a lot of time each of us as individuals had a conviction for something but we will ignore it because the world will take us on a different path, and we will get ourselves self-absorbed and we will lose ourselves and what it is we have as our personal aspiration. I am basically challenging anyone and everyone, whether it be for water or for anything else, that when that conviction comes, to follow it because it will be the single most life-changing thing that will happen to you outside of having a child or finding your soulmate. To be able to help others in a way that you know your convictions lead you there is something that will give you the power to be pragmatic about everything else in your life. I’m just super thankful.
With the project wrapped up in terms of the climb, looking ahead what’s next for this project, what’s next for you and water relief?
Let’s speak to the long future, we obviously have to do this again. How, when, what and who are literally in the process of development right now. It will happen again. This type of thing cannot go away, especially in this format and the way it’s been built. It’s something that needs to exist because I believe it will spawn amazing things. Short term, obviously we have the documentary coming out, but my focus is Capitol Hill. If I really, really focus on what needs to happen outside of donations and awareness projects, it’s getting our government to appropriate the right amount of money. At this point there is a comma and a couple zero’s missing and I’ve taken it upon myself to be a part of that changing. I think that the Summit team, as well all my other partners, all believe the same things and I think that it’s a fiscal responsibility for our government to focus on water. With all the statistics that say that 70%-80% of the reason that people go to the hospital world-wide is waterborne disease related. To realize that and to know that if you could spend 50 billion dollars on clean water, or more that you could eradicate a great deal of waterborne diseases and find yourself in a position where you have freed up doctors, hospitals, and resources for other less solvable issues. To realize that and to know that you’ll be freeing up billions upon billions of dollars by focusing on such a simple subject. That’s literally my focus now, to show every congress person that this is something that not only will they find themselves saving millions upon millions of lives, but at the exact same time their constituencies will say thank you for not wasting my tax dollars. I want congressional hearings on water. I want to be able to tell my father’s story. I want hearings, I want them to listen, I want them to understand, I want an extra comma, I want a few extra zero’s, and I want to change what needs to change in order for all of us to be better off. This is not just a developing nation issue, water is a problem in the United States of America. There are water issues all around the world and it’s not something that should be ignored because it will hit us really hard at some point and everybody will be like, “how did this happen,” and I’ll say, “I don’t know because I’ve been yelling from the top of the f’ing mountain to say it’s an issue,” but you were not paying attention.
What suggestions do you have in terms of how our millennial audience can educate themselves and leverage their voices, most likely using the Internet and social media, to bring awareness to what you are doing and water relief in general?
… at some point and everybody will be like, “how did this happen,” and I’ll say, “I don’t know because I’ve been yelling from the top of the f’ing mountain to say it’s an issue,” but you were not paying attention.
You have to know it’s a problem because you’ve taken in that information and you’ve studied it. You’ve got to know it’s a problem because you’ve actually gone and checked out “Flow” the documentary, and you’ve gone and looked up everything on the Internet that you possibly can. You’ve seen the stats and why it makes sense to focus on it, and that you see that it’s equal to a 747 jet full of children running into the side of a mountain every two hours every single day of every day of the year. What you can do about it afterwards? There are so many places and people that are champions. You can find them, they’re not hard to find once you start looking. I won’t point one out, I’ll say Shady Water is amazing, I’ll say the UN Foundation is doing things, but one thing I learned on this climb is everything has a process unless you decide to go do it yourself. I went to Jijiga [Ethiopia] to a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] Jijiga refuge camp and they have a water facility there. They had a water expert engineer who came and showed us the facility and taught us about the boreholes, and the piping, and what the problems were in the past, and how they found water, and all the details of it, and they said, “look, right here are some of the issues, we need air valves for these things and this would actually up our liter content for people to drink, we need water gauges so that we know what is going on with the water, and we also need a couple parts to support this other water pump over here.” I asked them what it would cost to fix those things, and with Customs and taxes the prices go through the roof, but an air valve is eighty-bucks and a water gauge is another hundred and fifty, and a whole pump is probably two-grand, and a new borehole with stainless steel piping is probably, after digging it and whatever, another couple grand. But you’ll send your money and it will go to a housing spot, and that housing spot will then decide where that money goes and maybe it’ll go to the places that need it, maybe they didn’t pipe up enough – maybe they didn’t think that anybody cared. So literally I’m taking air valves, and water gauges, and trying to figure out how I can frickin’ smuggle a water pump into a country and get it to the people, because I know if I do it it’ll cost me a few grand, but if they do it it’ll cost a hundred and fifty grand because there’s people that got paid to do a job to look after x-y-z, you know, it’s like fifty steps to get the one thing that cost way less. If you are a millennial and you give a shit; look, learn, study, understand you’re not going to save the world, you’re going to understand the world, and when you understand you can fix some things, and when you fix some things you may save some live, and when you save lives you have no idea if that one life you save is a person that will end up in college and have three degrees in biology, chemistry and physics, go to Harvard and get a PhD doctorate in biochemistry, create a drug that retards brain tumor growth in certain types of cancer with three noble laureates, and being part of strategy teams to help support the world – like my uncle, my mom’s brother.
He did all that?
Yeah, this is a real situation. So when you get down to it, it’s about an individual taking the time to learn, taking the time to understand the need, and then taking action, and that action will reverberate and that reverberation will change the world.