Every once in a while, you come across a story that is so astonishing, so incredible, that it challenges your preconceived notions and ideas of life. These stories inspire you to stand up and take note of the world around you and instill a sense of positivity.
The Story of Ryan Hreljac is a trailblazer of such stories. It tells the tale of the steely determination and the generosity of human spirit. Successfully combining the innocence of childhood and sheer willpower of adulthood, this story will take you into a journey of introspection and leave you with a smile.
It began like any other day in the life of a six year old, the same old commute to school, same old teachers and classmates, but little did Ryan Hreljac know that this was the day his life was about to change. Born and raised in a small town near Ontario, Canada, Ryan was a blonde haired child with sparkling blue eyes.
In January 1998, His Grade 1 teacher, Nancy Prest explained to her students about the Holy Cross campaign to raise funds for the needy in Africa. She described the dismal conditions of destitute children who were suffering from various ailments and did not even have access to basic necessities like food and clean water.
Ryan’s teacher encouraged students to contribute to the campaign as every penny contributed would take these impoverished children one step closer to better sanitation. This had a profound effect on Ryan’s psyche as with only 10 steps he had access to clean drinking water; whereas the African children were struggling for even a few drops of water.
Nancy explained that one penny would fetch a pencil; 25 cents would buy them 175 vitamin pills; 60 cents, a two month supply for medicine and $70 would help buy a pump that could dispense clean water every day.
Beginning of the idea
With a renewed sense of purpose, an idea began to germinate in the mind of young Ryan. He rushed home to his parents and expectantly asked for $70. His mother, Susan tried to brush away the idea at first. Not to be discouraged by this, Ryan explained the situation of the children in Africa and tearfully told his parents how unfair it was that children were dying because they could not get clean water.
Ryan’s heartfelt plea convinced his parents to allow him to raise the required $70 by doing extra household chores. To encourage Ryan, Susan even drew a red coloured thermometer with 35 lines across the thermometer, each line representing $2. Ryan was to complete odd jobs such as vacuuming, cleaning and washing windows.
For each complete chore, he received $2 that went into a cookie tin which Ryan used to keep his earnings safe. His undying determination to see his cause through, forced him to sacrifice his leisure time to complete his chores. But Ryan carried on without a single complaint.
The Hreljac family lent their complete support and well wishes to his noble cause and encouraged him to keep going. Upon hearing of Ryan’s goal, his grandfather decided to hire his brothers and Ryan to pick up pinecones for a craft project. He gave them $10 for each garbage bag they filled. When he received his report card, his parents contributed $5 to his fund for his good performance. As the campaign came to an end two months later, Ryan had painstakingly gathered $35 and was still working towards making his dream of $70 come true. His class had amassed a total of $40 in pennies. Making a total of $75, Ryan had met his goal!
Meanwhile, his mother, now skeptical about where the money would go after they had donated it, began inquiring about how the money would be utilized. Her friend Brenda Cameron Couch told her about WaterCan, a small nonprofit agency that undertakes and supervises the construction of wells. Assisted by Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR) which matched every one dollar WaterCan collected for two dollars.
She arranged for Ryan to personally hand over his hard earned money to the agency. Ryan dressed to the nines in a tie and formal pants and nervously handed over the money. He suggested that the extra $5 could help buy hot lunches for the construction workers.
Nicole Bosely of WaterCan explained to Ryan that while $70 would certainly fetch a handpump, it would take up to $2000 to drill a well. Not to be deterred, Ryan simply decided that more chores would help him collect the required money. However, his parents were realists. They began to wonder how a six year old child could collect such a large sum by completing day to day chores.
News is spreading out
Susan’s friend Brenda, sent out mass emails detailing Ryan’s story. A local newspaper by the name of ‘Kemptville Advance’ was so touched by his efforts, that they printed Ryan’s story in their newspaper under the heading, ‘Making a Difference: Ryan’s Well’.
Ryan had now collected $700. Upon meeting Gizaw Shibru, Director for Uganda at CPAR, they learned that buying drilling equipment would help them build more wells at a quicker pace. However, the cost of this would be a staggering $25000. Ryan did not lose hope. He decided that he would do whatever it takes to help people in Africa.
His story of determination had reached the desk of a popular newspaper called ‘The Citizen’. From then on, there was no looking back. His story was widely covered by newspapers, TV channels and other publications. Donations of varying amounts dropped in from far and wide and filled their mailbox. Within two months, Ryan had collected $7000!
Now seven years old, Ryan’s school began to send letters from their students to children studying in Angolo Primary School in Uganda. It was through this correspondence that Ryan got in touch with his pen pal, Akana Jimmy.
Jimmy described his life in Uganda where he had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and walk eight kilometers to fetch water and often, the water would be a dirty, chocolate brown colour. After this, he attended school and helped in household chores after he completed his school work. This gave little Ryan a reality check and he began to realize that not every child was as privileged as him.
One day, as a Christmas present, his neighbor presented Ryan with air tickets that would take him to Uganda to see the well he had helped build. Ryan could hardly believe that he would soon be in Uganda and would be able to inaugurate the well for which he had worked so hard.
He was given a warm welcome by the children at the Angolo Primary School who profusely thanked him for his efforts. Ryan interacted with all the students and even met his pen pal Jimmy. This truly was a moment of pride for Ryan and his family as all his efforts were finally being recognized and his dream of dispensing clean water for Africa had come true. His association with Jimmy has taken deeper roots since and he became an inseparable part of Ryan’s family.
The Ryan’s Well Foundation
Ryan continues to generate funds for more wells and successfully managed his school work simultaneously. Ryan remains involved in the cause closest to his heart. He aims to spread awareness about the water crisis through ‘The Ryan’s Well Foundation’ and also motivates and inspires others to donate whatever amount they can.
He is the Project Manager of ‘The Ryan’s Well Foundation’ which aspires to provide effective and sustainable solutions to the water crisis in the poorest regions of the world’s developing countries. Since its inception, the foundation has drilled a total of 800 wells, constructed 1,100 latrines and enhanced the lives of more than 750 thousand people.
While Ryan Hreljac may seem like just another boy, hidden underneath the surface is a kind hearted and confident young man who powered through, even when the situation seemed bleak. In a world where materialism and narcissism is rampant, Ryan’s sensitivity and generosity is a beacon of hope.
‘If you can dream it; you can do it.’
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