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Lifewater Donors Hike Mt. Aconcagua to Give 10 Villages in Africa Clean Water

South America’s Mt. Aconcagua poses a steep challenge for all who venture to climb to the top. The 22,837+ foot trek is one of the famed “Seven Summits,” a group of the tallest mountains on each continent and a mountaineer’s greatest test.

For Dave Firman and Aaron Katerberg of Michigan, climbing South America’s tallest mountain would be more than a feat of strength; it would be their opportunity to provide clean water to thousands.

On February 6, the two set off on a 19-day hike in what would be, for the most part, the blistering cold. The goal? Summit the mountain and raise funds for safe water in Africa.

In the end, they raised more than $56,000 for water-poor communities in Ethiopia and Uganda. Here’s how it all began.

From Michigan to the Mountaintop

Dave is owner of Firman Irrigation and Landscape, Lighting and Firman Tree Service. Both he and Aaron are in the irrigation business, with Aaron owning Grapids Irrigation.

“I went to South Africa with a local organization… about 5 or 6 years ago; people were drinking out of tiny ponds that were areas where rainwater collected,” Dave said. “For years after that I gave money [to safe water organizations].”

Around the same time Dave was witnessing South Africans drink contaminated water, Aaron was getting a firsthand look at the unsafe sanitation and hygiene conditions in Guatemala. They were convinced that clean water and safe sanitation made an enormous impact, and they were determined to do their part.

In 2016, Aaron summited Mt. Kilimanjaro with Lifewater, funding an entire village water project on his climb. He returned home hungry for another opportunity to climb for clean water.

CLIMB KILIMANJARO WITH LIFEWATER IN 2020 >

Dave and Aaron met through mutual friends, and the two quickly became close. It wasn’t long after that an idea struck Aaron: The two would summit Aconcagua, raising money for Lifewater through their businesses and personal connections.

Climb Kilimanjaro for charity
The Aconcagua team at the park entrance (Aaron, left, orange quarter-zip; Dave, right, blue t-shirt) (Photo courtesy of Dave Firman)

Braving the Climb and Considering the Cause

The 19-day hike up Mt. Aconcagua is notoriously grueling, even for highly-experienced climbers. The mountain is nicknamed “Mountain of Death” for the over 100 people who have lost their lives since records began.

Dave described getting caught in a blizzard.

“We were laying flat on the ground trying to not get blown away,” he said. “We figured it as 60/70 mph winds, and some of the tents at the higher camps were ripping up and blowing away.”

Even Aaron, who is typically quick at adapting to new altitudes, said, “As we got to the top… you couldn’t stand up without feeling like you’d pass out.”

To top it off, Dave had the stomach flu for the entire trip.

“I was very glad that I was doing it for a cause to tell you the truth,” he said. “If I was just doing it for me, it would have been hard to keep going.”

Temperatures are often in the negatives during the climb, with summit weather reaching -22 degree fahrenheit. But on the first day, temperatures skyrocketed.

“The first day was brutal…. we were doing the distance of a marathon in a dust storm in 105 degrees,” Aaron said. “We felt beat down the majority of the climb.”

Climb Kilimanjaro for clean water
Aaron (left) and Dave (right) stop for a must-needed rest and play foosball on the mountain (Photo courtesy of Dave Firman).

The two pushed on, determined to meet their goals.

“Prayer was the biggest help, and then knowing that you’re doing it for something bigger,” Aaron said.

Of the 10 other climbers who trekked with Aaron and Dave on their climb, half made it to the top. While both Lifewater ambassadors came close to summiting, their bodies ultimately gave out.

“I had a banner that said ‘thank you’ to my top donors and listed the business names of those that gave a lot to Lifewater,” Dave said. “I did get the banner to to the top, it just wasn’t by me.”

“They forced [Dave] to come down,” Aaron said, referencing the guides that were with them on the mountain. “I made it up maybe 22,000 feet, Dave made it like 300 meters from the summit.”

In the end, Dave gave his banner to climbers who made the last few steps up the mountain, and they proudly displayed a “thank you” to the generous supporters who gave for safe water.

Mountaineers hold Dave’s Lifewater banner on the summit of Mt. Aconcagua (Photo courtesy of Dave Firman).

Climbing for Safe Water. Climbing for Lasting Change.

The climb was an incredible challenge and a huge accomplishment for both climbers. Even after all they experienced, Aaron and Dave consider it a blessing to have been able to give so much for clean water.

“Water is a basic, basic need that we don’t even think about here in the United States,” Dave said. “We spend lots of money on things that we don’t need while so many people around the world don’t even have water.”

“Jesus is my savior, I love what Lifewater does,” Aaron said.

“You can’t just give [someone] fresh water and expect that to make a difference if they don’t know how to keep it safe,” Aaron added. “To give a person a tool is a wonderful thing, but if you don’t teach them how to use it, it defeats the purpose.”

In every village where Lifewater works, trained staff and health promoters go house by house teaching vital health and sanitation practices until ever home is a registered “Healthy Home” and every family knows how to care for their safe water source.

“It really doesn’t cost that much to make a pretty big impact on a lot of lives. For us, it’s a small sacrifice to make to change hundreds of peoples lives.” – Dave

The generous supporters of Dave and Aaron’s climb raised enough to give clean water and improved health 3,249 people in remote villages.

Climb Kilimanjaro for clean water
Aconcagua hikers walk a narrow path together (Photo courtesy of Dave Firman).

Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for Safe Water in 2020

Every year, Lifewater takes 21 dedicated hikers for a 7-day climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa and one of the “Seven Summits.

Every hiker commits to fundraising for an entire village water project, and each year, many children are saved from water-related illness because of our Kilimanjaro hikers.

When Amy Boley committed to climbing Kilimanjaro in 2018—to helping thousands of children with a need for clean water and the message of Jesus—she created a legacy of hope. Because she said “Send me!” an entire village of children in Hade Wajira village, Ethiopia, have greater hopes for their future.

Climb Kilimanjaro in 2020, and join a community of hikers whose impact will bring life and health to generations of families in Ethiopia and Uganda.

CLIMB KILIMANJARO WITH LIFEWATER IN 2020 >

Choose a Village. Change a Life.