Petoskey resident Dave Firman has traveled to and spent time in several remote places across the world.
Firman, a certified arborist, irrigation designer-contractor and owner of Firman Irrigation and Landscape Lighting and Firman Tree Service, has witnessed firsthand people who have very little or no access to clean drinking water.
“I’ve had experiences in South Africa on a mission trip and worked in villages where people had to go for miles to get water basically out of a mud puddle,” Firman said. “We were building water filters for them and doing things to help out … rebuilt some mud huts, put new roofs and doors on them so they wouldn’t get attacked at night.
“It was really eye-opening.”
By way of an irrigation peer group, Firman was introduced to a fellow business owner in his field: Aaron Katerberg, of Grapids Irrigation in Grand Rapids. Firman discovered Katerberg had climbed Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro with a team of people to raise money for Lifewater International, a California-based Christian nonprofit organization that provides education in sanitation and hygiene, and safe water wells to remote communities.
“He (Katerberg) wanted to do it again, do another fundraiser and he knew I had climbed mountains and I had been over there for mission trips,” Firman said, “He thought the two of us would be a good fit for raising money and I’ve been training to climb this mountain.”
That mountain will be Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, which is the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres at some 22,841 feet.
Starting Feb. 5, the 40-year-old Firman expects to spend 20 days traversing the mountain — along with Katerberg and a group of 10 others — to help raise money via Lifewater International to drill wells in Africa and Cambodia.
“I’ve met some other people with the (Lifewater International) organization, and I really like what they’re doing,” Firman said.
He will leave for South America on Feb. 2, and has been training vigorously for the climb here in Northern Michigan.
“I’ve been doing a lot of running, weight training and I’m wearing a 70-pound weight vest climbing hills around here with my boots and crampons, just going up and down hills for hours and hours,” Firman said. “I plan on sleeping outside to prepare for the ground and the cold.”
He’s also planning on climbing the back hills at Boyne Highlands at night to prepare for the trek.
“I’ve climbed seven volcanoes in Ecuador, climbed Mount Chimborazo which is the highest point in the world from the center of the earth and done a lot of treks, including the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu,” Firman said.
He also trekked through the jungle in Colombia last winter to visit indigenous tribes, but most of his climbing experience has been in Ecuador, where the highest point of Chimborazo was some 20,600 feet.
“Aconcagua is just shy of 23,000 feet,” Firman said. “This will be a much harder climb because we’re doing a traverse, we’re actually climbing up one side and down the other and that makes it harder. You’re carrying gear all the way up and all the way down.”
Along with training for the climb, Firman has already raised more than $20,500 of his goal of $22,841 (the elevation of Mount Aconcagua) for Lifewater International, which over the past 40 years has served more than 2.5 million people with lifesaving clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” Firman said. “Their website speaks of how $6,000 is a well for a small village. They also do sanitation training, many people don’t know about washing their hands and where to use the bathroom. They (Lifewater) build a health environment and build latrines, it’s not just clean water.”
According to Lifewater International’s website, every 60 seconds a child dies from preventable waterborne diseases in the world. Many unsafe water sources are in the remote and rural corners of the world and lack of safe water can impact all areas of life.
Lifewater reported that as of August of last year, 10.9 percent of people in the world were living on less than $2 a day. The organization also notes that for every 1,000 children born, 41 will die before they turn 5 years old as a result of malnutrition, contaminated water and poor sanitation and hygiene.
Also, rural populations around the world are four times as likely as urban populations to be drinking contaminated water.
It is estimated one in nine people in the world do not have access to any clean water and 1 million people die a year from a lack of clean water and poor sanitation.
“South America is an eye-opener, but not as much as Cambodia,” Firman said. “Seeing the poverty out there was hard for me. You come home and almost feel guilty … I have all this stuff and people in the world are starving and I’m wasting money on stupid stuff every day. It’s money that really helps over there, there’s a lot of people working to make it better.”
Donations to Firman will be used to provide for water and sanitation needs in Africa and Cambodia, and not for his climb.
Firman is also selling Aconcagua 2019 T-shirts to help raise money as well. The donation to obtain a shirt is $30.
“I’m looking forward to the camaraderie,” Firman said of his climb. “When you’re climbing as a team you’re all suffering together. It’s fun to tackle a big challenge like that. It’s good for your mind and good working with other people. I’ll get to know Aaron better, he’s an irrigation business owner himself, and he sees a lot of same issues we see and have to solve.”