What Ryan learnt on that lesson was the huge contrast it existed between his life and that of children in other communities. For some of them, going to class was a privilege. Most had to drop off schools in order to collect water. Having access to a well would prevent them from walking long distances and carrying heavy loads of water. It would give children freedom to go to school and for their parents to go to work. It meant no more waterborne illnesses and the possibility to build a life for themselves.
As a result, he started by collecting money to build a well in Uganda, Africa. Six months later he had saved 2000 USD, money he got in exchange for doing household chores and fundraising. The first well was drilled in northern Uganda alongside the Angolo Public School. In 2000, he visited the place and met the members of the community.
In that visit, he met Jimmy Akana, with whom he developed a deep connection and became pen-friends. Jimmy’s parents had disappeared during the country’s civil war. His father was killed, and her mother disappeared. He was living with his aunt and used to get up at midnight so that he could fetch water before school. Jimmy was later abducted by a rebel group, Lord’s Resistance Army, and then escaped to the home of an aid worker.
The Hreljac family was deeply moved with what was happening to Jimmy. They paid for his schooling for a couple of years, and then adopted Jimmy and brought it to Canada.
As a six-year-old, he had originally thought that building a well would bring water crisis to an end. Along the years, he realized that there were many communities facing the same problem.
On his many visits to Africa, he learnt stories of people forced to leave his village by rebels and having to leave in displaced camps. Once back, their only source of water was contaminated. They had no other choice rather than drinking water coming from unreliable sources. Children getting diarrhea, typhoid and malaria was commonplace. But everything was different once the new well was drilled for them. Their children were healthy again. Men or women could go to work without feeling sick. People took good care of the well because it is the lifeline of their community.
He kept on raising money in order to build more wells. The journey that originally started with one well, turned into hundreds of them. When he learnt many girls did not attend classes because of lack of sanitation in schools, he also began to raise money for building latrines and hand washing stations.
In 2001, with the support of his parents, he founded Ryan‘s Well Foundation to bring water to people in developing countries. At the moment, his foundation has more than 1,448 water projects and has installed 1,255 latrines, helping over 1,033,850 people. He has received numerous awards for his work, and he was the youngest person ever to be bestowed with the Order of Ontario.
The dream of a little boy touched many lives. “This world is a puzzle. Everyone has a piece and they have to find where it fits”, ten-year-old Ryan said in an interview. For years, he has been motivating young and adults to engage in water crisis. He had attended speaking events in more that 40 countries to spread his message about the importance of clean water. Encouraging people all over the world to get involved, even by a small or local action. You just have to take that very first step. What do you dream about?