RYAN HRELJAC was 6 years old when a talk by his grade one teacher, Mrs. Prest, changed his life. She told the class about people in Africa who had a very hard time getting clean water and access to wells. Without this basic human necessity, people, especially children, can get sick and sometimes die. Deeply moved, Ryan persuaded his parents to pay him to do extra chores and finally came up with the $70 he thought was needed to drill a well. But he was in for a shock. WaterCan( a non-profit organization that provides clean water to poor countries) told him that it would actually cost $2,000 to drill a well on another continent. Ryan didn't give up. He got very busy doing more chores and expanding his fundraising. Several months later he had finally collected the $2,000 and the rest, "as they say", is history. He sent the money to WaterCan and in January, 1999, The Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) drilled a well beside Angolo Primary School in northern Uganda, with funds raised by Ryan and many others.
Since that first well was dug in Uganda in 1999, RyansWell.ca has, with the support of organizations such as WaterCan, CPAR, CIDA ( Canadian International Development Agency), and Free The Children, raised over $800,000 to provide clean water to people in Africa. According to his mother Susan, many others have helped along the way, including his school, Holy Cross, Millenium Kids, UNICEF, Rotary, The World Health Organization, World of Children and Living Water International
In the past 18 months Ryan has travelled across Canada, and to Australia, South Africa, the United States, China, Japan and Italy to motivate and inspire others to spread his "dandelion seeds of hope". Next month Ryan will be a keynote speaker, along with DAVID SUZUKI,( the award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster) at CANWELL 2004, the biannual convention and Conference on ground-water in Vancouver, Canada.His Ryan's Well Foundation has supported water and sanitation projects that have been completed or are under way in Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Ryan has met many famous people all over the world and has even been blessed by the Pope but he insists he is "just a normal boy." His mother Susan says: "Ryan treats everyone he meets in the same way. In his heart we all make a difference whether we are Prime Ministers, gas station attendants or Grade 7 students. He believes in his heart that a five-year-old girl from Florida who sent him five cents from doing chores is as important as the man from Dubai who sent him five thousand dollars."
Interview with Ryan
MyHero.Com youth reporter Slater (11 years old) recently caught up with Ryan.
My Hero: "What made you, even though you were 6 years old, feel like you just had to help the people in Africa?"
RYAN: "When I learned that there were people dying in the world because they didn't have clean water, I couldn't believe it! I take nine steps and there, I have it. Clean water right in my tap. Some people in Africa have to walk for five miles to get clean water. My new brother Jimmy Akana used to live in Uganda. He told me that he would get up at 12 midnight and walk for five miles to get water for his aunt. Then he walked five miles back. He did this three times before he went to school!"
My Hero: What have you learned from the people you've met in Africa?
RYAN: "I learned that we are all the same. When I went to Uganda, I asked if I could go to school for a day. I had a great time in school and I had a great time playing soccer, too. The kids in Uganda are just regular kids. They are unlucky though because they were born in a country that does not have as much clean water as we have here in North America.
I have learned that every child needs certain things if they are going to be healthy and happy no matter where they live. Kids need clean water and sanitation, they need enough food to eat, they need to be able to go to school, and they need a chance to play and have fun. That way they can help out in the world too.
The world is like a great big puzzle and we all have to figure out where our puzzle piece fits. I figure my piece fits with clean water. I just hope everyone else finds out where their puzzle piece fits too."
My Hero: If you had the attention of the world for 5 minutes, what would you do?
RYAN: "If I had the attention of the world for 5 minutes, I would ask everyone to think about how much they have. In Canada we have so much stuff. I'd ask people to think about what they want and what they really need. I'd ask them to share just a little bit no matter where they lived.
I would tell everyone to believe in their dreams. If you do, you can accomplish anything.
Sometimes people think they don't have a lot extra to share but they are wrong. I will tell you why. The kids at Angolo Primary School in Uganda (that's where my first well is) decided after I visited there that they could share too. They told me that they were going to do like me and make a difference. These kids didn't have anything. But they decided that they were going to spend five days out of every school year volunteering, helping older people or people who had HIV/Aids and other stuff. In Uganda, they learned that you can help others no matter who you are. If everyone thought that way and did something nice every day for someone else, the world would be a much better place. The world would be more equal too.
I would call all the world leaders and I would ask them to think about EVERYONE in this world and not just the people in their countries with the boundaries. I would ask them to do what I learned when I was in kindergarten - and share. I would ask them to spend more time listening to kids too."
My Hero: "You are a hero to many people all over the world. Who is your hero and why?"
RYAN: "My heroes are all the kids all around the world who are working to make a difference even though there are tons of adults who don't always listen to them and don't think they can do it but they are and that's great!"
My Hero: You've already accomplished so much in your young life, what are your goals for the future?
RYAN: "I want to be a water engineer when I grow up and do my work in Africa and I want everyone in the world to have clean water."
My Hero: How can kids get involved building wells with you?
RYAN: "Kids can raise money for water projects.
When it comes to building a well, the cost may vary depending on the region of Africa i.e. soil conditions, depth of the well, equipment & availability of skilled labour. We have also learned that building the well is only one step in the process of providing clean water. There are other costs like training local individuals on maintaining the well and teaching proper sanitation procedures to ensure that the well is a success. We just completed a project in Malawi where we built 8 wells. Two Deep wells cost approximately $3000.00 each and 6 shallow wells at 1500.00 each. In Ethiopia it can cost up to $15,000 to drill a well because the terrain is very different in some parts of the country.
If kids want to do fundraisers and they want some ideas, you can do a car wash, a bake sale, a garage sale, or sell bottled water. Some schools are doing what I did and they do extra chores to reach a school goal of building a well. If every student in a school saved $1 a week for 10 weeks and there were 100 people in the school then that would be $1,000!!! Some students donate part of their babysitting money or pick up litter in their neighbourhood.
The average Canadian uses about 343 litres of water per person and the average person in the USA uses 555 litres (or 147 gallons). In Uganda, the average person uses less than 10 litres. Some kids in Canada sell t-shirts or water bottles with 343 vs.10 on their shirts to tell people that we need to save more water."
My Hero: How do you have fun?
RYAN: "I spend half my time helping out in the world and the other half being a kid. I an on my school basketball team and I play on an ice hockey team too. I like computer games and I like to read and play chess. Oh I like to laugh too. I watch the Simpson's a lot."