“You Don’t Have to Be a Grownup to Make a Difference”
A small kid with a big vision: At the age of six, Ryan Hreljac formed his commitment to fight the global water crisis. Today, twenty years later, a global organization has grown out of his enthusiasm: the Ryan’s Well Foundation
Mr. Hreljac, where does your desire to solve the water crisis come from?
It all started with a school project in the first grade. Our teacher said: Many people are dying because they don’t have clean water. For me as a six-year-old this was unimaginable, because all I had to do was to open the tap. Then she added that girls could not go to school because they had to travel long distances to carry heavy canisters full of water to their villages. A well costs around 70 dollars. So I went to my parents and asked them for the money.
How did your parents react?
At first they said I shouldn’t worry about such serious issues, as I was too young for that. But I didn’t let go. Finally, they let me earn the 70 dollars with jobs around the house. It took me two months to earn the money.
What did you do with the money?
My mother took me to an organization that runs water projects in Africa. But my 70 dollars weren’t enough, they told me, a well costs several thousand dollars. So I held a talk at my school in front of all my classmates to collect more money. I was very nervous. A year and many talks later I finally raised enough money and a well could be drilled in a school in Uganda.
What happened next?
When the community in Uganda found out that a child had raised the money, they wanted to get to know me. My neighbors donated their collected air miles so that my family and I could travel to Uganda. The people there were so grateful that they even introduced a “Ryan’s Day” at school. This was incredible, but it motivated me to continue. I was just an average kid who played far too many video games, but I wanted to make a difference Anyone can do that. You only have to find something you are passionate about and share your enthusiasm with as many people as possible. This is the reason why the Ryan’s Well Foundation exists, because we receive a lot of help from volunteers all around the world.
To date, the Ryan’s Well Foundation has collected over ten million dollars and built 1,166 wells in 16 countries. What are the greatest challenges involved in bringing water to developing countries?
To make our work sustainable. It is not enough to drill a well, people have to know how to maintain it and deal with the water meaningfully. It’s also very important to educate the people about diseases like cholera and typhus, which are transmitted by contaminated water. That’s why we offer hygiene workshops and educational programs. Over one billion people have no access to sanitation facilities. 88 per cent of all diseases are caused by poor hygiene. In addition to the wells, we have built over 1,000 latrines.
What are the future projects of the Ryan’s Well Foundation?
We are currently collecting funds for various projects in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Haiti, and Ghana. This year we will drill seven wells in the Amansie district of Ghana. They will supply six villages and a maternity clinic with water. This will allow us to improve the lives of 4,500 people.
When you look back at your almost lifelong commitment, what have you learned during this time?
That you don’t have to be a grownup to make a difference. A kid can make a huge impact too, because kids don’t overthink too much. My innocent naivety and stubbornness as a child helped me to get started, and luckily I still haven’t stopped.
Interview: Eva Bolhoefer
The Ryan’s Well Foundation website is at: www.ryanswell.ca