One day in 1998 while he was sitting in his Grade One classroom in Kemptville, ON, Ryan Hreljac’s teacher, Mrs. Prest, told the students that some children were sick, and some were even dying because they didn’t have access to clean water.
As Ryan recounts the moment on his website, “All I had to do was take 10 steps from my classroom to get to the drinking fountain and I had clean water. Before that day in school, I figured everyone lived like me. When I found out this wasn’t the case, I decided I had to do something about it.”
He did. He took on extra chores to raise money, finally amassing the $70 he thought would build a well and solve the world’s water problems. When he found out that it would in fact cost $2,000 for a single well in Uganda, Ryan doubled down.
“I started speaking to service clubs, school classes, to anyone who would listen to my story so that I could raise money for my first well at Angolo Primary School in Uganda. That’s how my little Grade One project became the Ryan’s Well Foundation.”
Media organizations picked up Ryan’s story and donations started coming in.
As the Foundation grew and flourished, so did Ryan’s notoriety. He laid a wreath with Prince Charles, dined with Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace and attended church with Queen Elizabeth. He was featured in Reader’s Digest. He even appeared a couple of times on the Oprah Winfrey Show, collaborated for years with Dr. Jane Goodall, and received communion from the late Pope John Paul II. Ryan received awards and citations ranging from the Order of Ontario to the Canadian Meritorious Service Medal. There were many more. And this was before he even finished high school.
Even with 17 years’ experience in international development, community development and public speaking to his credit, Ryan wanted more education. He came to King’s to study the humanities. After graduating with a double major in International Development and Political Science, Ryan returned to the Foundation he started, this time as Assistant Project Manager. That turned into Project Manager and then Ryan was made Executive Director of Ryan’s Well. It is an organization that has raised millions of dollars, bringing clean water to almost a million people in 17 countries.
“I’m especially grateful for the Foundation Year Program (FYP)” Ryan says. “It helped me build a strong academic base for myself and gave me additional tools to pursue my professional career and volunteer work with greater confidence. King’s provided the perfect forum for me to entertain new and innovative ideas and theories, and the confidence and courage to put them into practice.”
At its core, it is a simple story—a young boy wants to change the world. But as it says in Ryan’s bio, “Ryan’s Well Foundation has become the story of countless people, young and old, from around the world who ignore apathy and realize that anyone, even kids in grade one, can make a difference.”
And he credits King’s with helping him develop, “a deeper understanding of life’s challenges, along with the perseverance to continue finding solutions that many consider elusive.”
Posted: April 2019