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Meet the Celebrities Who Climbed Kilimanjaro to Awaken the World to a Water Crisis

Grammy-nominated recording artist Kenna has personal drive behind his mission to increase awareness about the global water crisis.

How do you draw the world's attention to a deadly global scourge? Call up your friends and climb a mountain (it could help if your friends are mega-celebrities and MTV wants to make a film about it.) This is how Kenna set out to illuminate the global clean water crisis. Calling it Summit on the Summit, the Grammy-nominated recording artist assembled a team of celebs, activists, and experts, including Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch, Lupe Fiasco, Santogold, Alexandra Cousteau, and plenty more, to scale the punishing peak of Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download.

TreeHugger: Kilimanjaro is no joke. This is the tallest mountain in Africa--it's considered the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. What's it like to climb a beast like this?

Kenna: Hell comes to mind. Lupe Fiasco, who climbed with us, said that climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro was a crucible made in the pits of hell. It was not a comfortable thing to attempt. We all had reason to do it and a serious hope that we would all make it to the top, but we all knew there was a really good risk that we wouldn't be able to make it.

That's what this is about in the first place: doing something extreme to bring attention to something that has champions, but doesn't have a voice yet. The only way to do that really is to push the envelope and force some perspectives.

TreeHugger: I understand your father was a big source of inspiration for you in all this. Tell me about that, and why Kilimanjaro?

Kenna: I can start by saying that I tried to climb Kilimanjaro five years ago and I only got to 18,200 feet and ended up coming home. I went by myself, it was a personal mission of my own. It's a two-pronged inspiration because my dad had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I went in the first place to fulfill my dad's dream in some vicarious way for him. But at the same time I did it to kickstart a journey for me on my album. And when I didn't get to the top I obviously had a vendetta with the mountain.

Then about three years ago my dad came to me and told me he had saved about $10,000 to go dig a well in Ethiopia, where I'm from. Of course I'm going to ask the question "why," since I had no real clue about the global clean water crisis. He shockingly explained that he had water-borne diseases when he was a child, and that his brother died, that his friends died, that his family members died. This was something that he felt very strongly about: getting clean water to children in Ethiopia.

I just ended up, first of all, feeling like a bad son for not knowing all this already, and then taking on a real fervor to figure out what this was about, if it was much wider-spread than just my dad's story. I learned a great deal about it and, with my vendetta, pushed it together into one strong agenda for making some noise for clean water.

TreeHugger: Tell me a little bit about this cast of characters you brought in to help you with this mission.

Kenna: It was a much more spiritual thing than trying to pull people together to just do something. It really came together on it's own. I would mention that I was going to go do this, hoping that I would actually just have a back-up of allies and possible funding from friends and supporting non-profits. It ended up being every time I would mention it, someone would volunteer. Jessica Beil volunteered. I mentioned it to Lupe Fiasco, he volunteered. In the beginning, Justin Timberlake was the first person to hear about it, and he volunteered first.

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