New York, 18 November 2003 - When Ryan Hreljac was six years old, he learned something that changed his life. He found out that children, unlike those in his hometown of Kemptville, Canada, were dying from lack of clean water all over the world.
“It all started when I was in grade one - during Lent when we’d often at school save money for charities. That year we were trying to help people in developing countries,” he says. “We learned you could build a well for 70 dollars. My teacher explained that people were dying because they didn’t have clean water, and I didn’t feel right about that. I got really, really upset.”
That was in January 1998. He went home and asked his mum and dad for money, and they suggested he do extra chores around the house to earn it. When he had the seventy dollars, he headed to the Canadian non-profit organization, WaterCan, where he found out it would take at least $2,000 to build a well. But Ryan did not give up his goal.
“I told the people at WaterCan I’d do a lot more chores,” he says. “But then I realized that I needed help. So I began fundraising and making speeches to raise the money.”
In 2001, Ryan, with the help of his family, founded the Ryan’s Well Foundation. It has since raised nearly $800,000 and built 70 wells that provide fresh water in several African countries, including Malawi, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
Today at UNICEF headquarters in New York City, Ryan, 12, was awarded the Founder’s Award, as part of the sixth annual World of Children Awards. The $15,000 scholarship will go back into his foundation.
The young advocate plans to become a water engineer and move permanently to Africa to continue his work from there. One day, he hopes to see his organization’s mission statement fulfilled.
“I want for all of Africa to have clean drinking water,” says Ryan.