"I wanted a job that not only paid well, but made the world a little bit of a better place," he said today by phone. "That's what I found in Kenya – not only how to use my story as a career, but then how to use that to give back to these incredible people that have given me so much. And that is wasn't really so much about material possessions, but actually helping others that made me happy."
He became a motivational speaker for the organization Me to We, founded by the same people as Free the Children, and started encouraging audiences to overcome their challenges. He decided the climb Kilimanjaro to raise $750,000 for the Kenyans who had "helped me find my passion," he said.
The money would build three boreholes and provide clean water to hundreds of thousands for those who have been struggling from Africa's worst drought in 60 years. In Kenya and the surrounding countries, the drought has poisoned millions of Africans' clean drinking water and killed off livestock that was once their sole source of income. Increasingly, children are being forced to work at home instead of go to school.
It took West and his two best friends one year to train to climb Africa's tallest peak.
The day he saw the peak, he says, will be one of the most memorable of his life.
"The moment the summit was within sight was incredible," he wrote on his blog during the ascent. "After seven grueling days of relentless climbing, after 20,000 feet of our blood, sweat and tears (and, let's face it, vomit) we had actually made it. We were at the top. The summit sign seemed almost like a mirage."
But it was not a mirage, and West redefined what was possible for him – and, he hopes, for anyone who comes across his story.
"Small things like learning to swim, or learning to drive standard for the first time, or maybe even it's taking an hour and reading to their kids," he said. "Small little steps to redefine what's possible in their own lives as well, as I've done with mine."