Ryan's Well
Podcast #37 — Aired July 24, 2014

With a dream and determination, even a child can make a big difference in the world! On this week’s episode of BetterWorldians Radio, we’ll talk about how a six year old set out to solve a problem and changed hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. Our guest this week is Ryan Hreljac, the founder of Ryan’s Well. Ryan will discuss how, as a six year old, he set out to build a well in a village in Uganda. Ryan will tell listeners how that dream turned into Ryan’s Well, a Canadian non-profit that has now provided clean water for more than 800,000 people. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

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Ryan Hreljac
Founder, Ryan's Well Foundation

At 23 years old, Ryan Hreljac is the founder of the Ryan’s Well Foundation, an organization committed to delivering access to safe water and empowering people of all ages to make a difference in the world. Amazingly, Ryan’s journey began at age six when he was shocked to learn that people in Africa were dying because they didn’t have clean water. Ryan took it upon himself to raise money by doing chores and public speaking, and with the support of his family, friends and community, built a well in Uganda. Since then, Ryan’s Well has helped build 878 wells and 1120 latrines, bringing safe water and improved sanitation to 823,238 people in 16 countries. Ryan studied International Development and Political Science and graduated from the University of King’s College in Halifax. He serves on the board of the Ryan’s Well Foundation and continues to speak around the world on water issues and volunteerism.

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi, this is Greg. Im so glad you can all join us here on Better Worldians Radio. Let me first just tell you a bit about my dad, Ray, who you just heard from. Hes a serial entrepreneur who successfully founded and with MarySue, took public a national marketing firm. Giving back has always been really important to Dad who supports many causes, especially disadvantaged children and their families. By the way, were the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. To date, over twenty-two million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than two and a half million people. In the month of July, were supporting One Simple Wish, a non-profit that is brightening the lives of children in foster care and at risk youth one simple wish at a time. When our players complete 500,000 good deeds within the game, well donate funds to grant wishes for three children in need as they search for their forever families. This week on Better Worldians Radio, we are talking about Ryans Well, a Canadian non-profit that has brought safe water and improved sanitation to over 800,000 people in the world and believe it or not, the organization was started by Ryan Hurljack when he was just six years old.

Raymond Hansell
Now twenty-three years old, Ryans journey began at age six when he was shocked to learn that people in Africa were actually dying because they didnt have clean water. Ryan took it upon himself at that age to raise money by doing chores around the house and eventually doing public speaking, and with the support of his family, friends, and community they built a well in Uganda. Since then, Ryans Well has helped, believe it or not, build nine hundred wells, close to nine hundred wells and more than one thousand latrines. Ryan studied international development and political science and graduated recently from the University of Kings College in Halifax. He serves on the board of Ryans Well Foundation and continues to speak around the world on water issues and volunteerism. He has received numerous awards and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and CVC. He is recognized by Unicef as a global youth leader. For Ryan, the work of Ryans Well has become the story of countless people, young and old, who ignore apathy and realize that anyone, even kids in first grade, can make a difference. Ryan, its so great to have you with us today on Better Worldians Radio. Thanks for joining us.

Ryan Hurljack
Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. Lets start out by talking about the scope of the problem here regarding clean water. I read that nearly one billion people, thats one in every six of us in the planet, lack access to safe water. Could you expand a little bit on that?

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah. There are some pretty crazy statistics over there that are pretty easy to go over your head. Right now its close to 900 million people that dont have access to clean water and over two billion people that dont have access to sanitation and they are pretty big numbers that are easy to ignore or to sidestep but at the core of it, its people who are mainly kids and mainly in rural areas who dont have the capacity to have clean water at their houses and have to spend many hours a day getting clean water for the family. So theyre not being able to go to school or work or invest in farming so its something that takes a big chunk out of your life and a lot of the times where they dont have access to clean water, theyll have to go to contaminated sources where livestock will also be getting in the water and people will get sick and the infant mortality rises and a lot of people die needlessly because they dont have clean water.

Raymond Hansell
Now this journey began in 1998 for you when you were just in the first grade and you learned that so many people in the world didnt have this access to clean water. What was what was your reaction to that fact back then? How did you feel about that?

Ryan Hurljack
Well it was a really long time ago. I was six years old so I dont know if you remember what it was like when youre six, but your world wasnt very big. It was my house and my school and I thought thats how the entire world worked, like my town Kentville, Hick, Ontario, and I never really thought twice about it. Then we were doing I went to a Catholic school and I think we were doing our Lenten project. So we did things in the past like canned food drives, we raised money for cancer, but this year we were doing something. My teacher said we were raising money for developing countries and broadened this list of things we could save. It was a list like one cent would buy a pencil, two dollars would buy a blanket, and so on and so on. Then she got to the point where she said seventy dollars would buy a well and explained to us that people were dying because they didnt have clean water. And a few of the kids in my classroom, we were confused. We were like what do you mean? Why dont they just go to the water fountain and get water? Like, duh. Its not that complicated. My teacher had to explain to us, no. The entire world is not like your school. Sometimes kids your age will have to walk five kilometers to go get clean water. We were in grade one so we didnt know how far five kilometers was so my teacher said five thousand steps. That didnt really help because I couldnt count that high but yeah, with my amazing math skills. But I remember I did count the steps it took me to get from my classroom to the water fountain and I counted ten. It just it just didnt seem fair. These kids werent able to go to school, something that I realized just then that I took for granted. I hated going to school but there were kids who werent able to so it really hit me at that point that I needed to try to do something.

Raymond Hansell
And doing something to you at that point, you thought you just needed to raise seventy dollars?

Ryan Hurljack
Well the thought process in my mind was okay, raise seventy dollars, give it to my teacher, problem solved.

Raymond Hansell
Problem solved.

Ryan Hurljack
X, Y, Z. Yeah.

Raymond Hansell
Sounds good. But your parents said they wouldnt give you the original seventy dollars; you had to earn it. So how did how did you do that? What did you do to earn the seventy dollars?

Ryan Hurljack
Well my original plan was just to go and ask them for it and its not like I wanted to buy I think Gameboys were the hit thing right then. Its not like I wanted to buy a Gameboy. It was I wanted to, you know, build this well so people wouldnt die so I thought they would just give it to me. Then they kind of laughed and were like, eh no. And I remember I kept on pestering. I didnt let it go like a six-year-old normally would I guess and I remember, we were having a family dinner and my mom used to hate it when we pointed our fingers and I remember we were having the family dinner and I pointed at my mom and I said you dont get it. Someone just died because they dont have clean water and you didnt help them. So I got a time out which but yeah. But then my parents sat me down and said you know what, if youre serious, you can do chores on top of the chores you already do and then you can earn something magical called an allowance and if you have the dedication, you can save up that money to build this well. So I did chores for extra chores on top of the chores I already did to earn this allowance for four months. I vacuumed, I washed windows, I did all of this other stuff, and for four months I raised the seventy dollars and brought it into an organization that built clean water wells. I was really, really pumped. I had this cookie tin full of change. I got all dressed up in my suspenders and very second-hand suit and got the day off of school and brought in this cookie tin to these people and said this is to build a well. They looked at me and they said aw, thats wonderful. Cute kid with your cookie tin but its going to cost at least two thousand dollars to build a well. So after they said that, I said that Id just do more chores because my math skills still werent superb and realized that I wasnt going to raise two thousand dollars by vacuuming my house so I started going back to my classroom. I remember I talked to my friends about it and first they were all surprised that it was still going on, that this was four months later. And I think I persuaded a few of them to help out. So I think we did a Pokémon card fundraiser and raised a couple more bucks. Then we did a bake sale and I was able to give a presentation to my entire class, then the neighboring grade one class. Then I was able to get my neighbors involved and it slowly grew to the point where we were able to raise two thousand dollars for a well one year later and even since then, weve been able to do so much and its great to see that, yeah, its come so far out of that naïve idea.

Raymond Hansell
Theres so many ideas that we talk about on the radio program and hear that come from exactly that same place, from some simple naïve idea that starts with the first step so my congratulations for taking those steps because look where its gone. Now your story really started to get on a roll and get some publicity and people wanted to support this six-year-old-kid who cared so much about building a well in a foreign land called Africa. Do you remember what it was like when those donations from the outside started rolling in?

Ryan Hurljack
It was pretty interesting at first. It was very slow. Like, I remember at first anyways, it was I remember I got my first donation for twenty dollars from an old lady in Renfrew that I guess I gave my first pitch to and first I was upset because she gave me a check and I didnt know cursive writing so I thought it was useless. I wasnt able to sign it. But it was slowly it became less and less of my project and more of everyones project; my friends, my peers, my community were invested in it with me and it was great to see that even though something like Im from a very rural place where, you know, you care about whats in your backyard and of course you volunteer and give back but when it comes to the global scope of things, it was a very new thing in 1998. So to see my community come around and my neighbors and people who wouldnt necessarily be involved in something like that become involved just because of the enthusiasm I think was remarkable.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, it must have been an extremely remarkable feeling and seeing that goal sort of just take on a whirlwind of publicity and what have you, it just took off. So were going to actually head to break at this point and when we come back, were going to be talking more with the founder of Ryans Well, Ryan Hurljack, and my co-host, MarySue. But in the meantime, Id like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts are really small and dont seem very noticeable, take heed of this particular broadcast today. It can be really something big in the making and if you believe that they really want to make a difference or are making a difference, wed love to hear about them. So send us an email at Better Worldians dot com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Youre listening to Better Worldians Radio. Were talking with Ryan Hurljack, founder of Ryans Well. And now let me welcome back Ryan and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Ryan.

Ryan Hurljack
Hi, MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
You know, your first project was building a well in Uganda and you traveled there as a child to see that project. I know it was a very long time ago but could you share with the listeners what that experience was like?

Ryan Hurljack
Well when I was nine, my neighbors were able to give my family air mile points so I was actually able to go see the well that I had helped build at that point. It was out of this world I think. It was going to Uganda, I was nine years old and I spent a lot of time with the kids at the school and I actually went to school for a week and it was crazy because you got to see something that I used to consider so small having so much of an impact on someones life. It was amazing and it really gave me the push I think I needed to keep on the project going.

MarySue Hansell
You know, I saw a documentary that was done. It was excellent. I would recommend everybody see it. But I thought if you could share what how the people were getting water when you were there, you know. Where did they get it? It looked like a swampy area or something.

Ryan Hurljack
Well typically if you dont have a water source near you, you get it wherever you could. So a lot of the times, it would be basically a ditch on the side of a road and a lot of times thats where animals are getting their water, thats where they defecate, and its unsanitary and it leads to getting sick and missing school and missing work. So its something thats you know, no person should have to cope with and do. I remember I guess there is one story about my pen pal Jimmy. He went to the school before and after the well was built. Before the well was built, he used to get up really, really early in the morning. He used to get up at midnight and get these two big jerry cans and walk to the nearest well close to them because they didnt have one near them. So he used to walk I think five kilometers there, fill up the two big jerry cans, and then come back and do it again and then do it one more time. And then I like it actually when Jimmy tells the story because then he would say then I had the privilege to go to school. And its something that, you know, try getting up at midnight, doing that for that, and then not falling asleep in class. And, you know, feeling honored and privileged to be there and its something that, you know, is unacceptable I think and but the fact that when the well was put in, he got to go to school and then bring the water home at the end of the day. So something as small as having water at his school just changed his life.

MarySue Hansell
Thats unbelievable. You know, I saw that documentary too that the villagers wrote a song for you and sang it to you. That was really neat. Could you share anything about that?

Ryan Hurljack
It was actually an entire day when I first went to Angola primary school. Five thousand people came. There was this big celebration. There was a dance, there was a feast, there was a festival. Everyone was so excited on so many different levels because they had clean water and every part of it was more amazing than the last and the kids there are creative and smart and you know, it was awesome to see.

MarySue Hansell
I love the expression on the kids faces and on your face, you know, just the whole sight of the well there that day. I hear they even named a day for you. Tell us about that.

Ryan Hurljack
Yes they did actually. They made it a school holiday, July 27th. They named it Ryans Day and I like the holiday in Uganda actually because at the school when every July 27th comes is theyll make it a holiday so the kids get the day off of school but for that day what they have to do is they have to go out in their communities and volunteer so its kind of a concept of full circle. Like, you know, you do what you can no matter where you are.

MarySue Hansell
Well it was very inspirational. Im going to show it to my grandkids. I think theyll get a lot out of it.

Ryan Hurljack
Perfect.

MarySue Hansell
You recently traveled back there to Uganda I guess. Was it the fifteen year anniversary?

Ryan Hurljack
Yes.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, so can you give us some contrast? You know, what was it like before? You talked a little bit about that. And whats it like now?

Ryan Hurljack
Well we were able to we still do a lot of work in the area in the Lira District and the Apac District in Northern Uganda so we were doing site visits in the area and it just so happens that it came together that we were able to I was able to go back and it was incredible. It was nice to reconnect and get reinvigorated with why it all began and why I started it and that initial motivation. I guess if anything, if you become detached in a way from something that, you know, you care about, you cannot lose drive but just lose purpose so it was really nice to get reacquainted with that and give, I know myself, some more motivation to keep on trucking.

MarySue Hansell
Wow. So were the people still having fresh water and you know, did they look different, act differently, things like that?

Ryan Hurljack
Well the school specifically. The school has grown and is bigger and the area itself is its growing up and its interesting in Northern Uganda. It was plagued by civil war about a dozen years ago. Not a dozen. Ten years ago. And its gone through some really tough times and tough strife with different villages and communities but to see them, I think they are going to come out on top and for the support that we have been able to help provide different villages and different schools in the area with clean water, I think that theyre making the right steps. So a lot more farming and agriculture than I had seen before and a lot more development so it was great.

MarySue Hansell
Wow. Thats wonderful. Now everything is going so well. Youve built over eight hundred and seventy projects, water projects, and over a thousand latrines, and helping improve everything for about 800,000 people. My heavens. Thats wonderful. How do you choose these projects?

Ryan Hurljack
Well how we choose our projects and how we operate is were a fundraising component in the Ryans Well Foundation and why were able to establish the Ryans Well Foundation is that the first time we were over, we were able to make really good contacts with different local NGOs that are doing the work. So were able to basically have an instant connection and an instant, basically investment in specific areas. Weve done work in sixteen countries but in Uganda for instance, our partners are educated and have the tools in place to make sure the projects are as sustainable as they can, that they go towards the communities, that they have the proper tools and the proper spot to be doing it. So were able to support them and then turn make a big difference.

MarySue Hansell
You say there were sixteen countries?

Ryan Hurljack
Weve done work in sixteen countries. Right now were focused in about five so we do a lot of work in Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Haiti, and Kenya.

MarySue Hansell
Are there big differences between the, you know, how you do work in one and another?

Ryan Hurljack
Well different regions are different I guess you could say. Like in Uganda, a lot of our projects are standard wells and protected springs whereas in Kenya, we do a lot of work for the Maasai so were building rain harvesting water catching tanks and then in Haiti its a big sanitation component, building latrines and proper facilities at different schools and orphanages. So its a it depends on where you go. There are different needs and different situations everywhere in the world.

MarySue Hansell
Now how do the local communities get involved?

Ryan Hurljack
Well the most important thing actually when we build a well is I think there was this crazy statistic sometime in the 90s that 80% of the wells drilled from international development no longer worked. They no longer worked because people would essentially parachute in, build the well, have no investment, no cooperation with the community, and say see you later and it doesnt work. Its not sustainable. No one takes ownership for the well and they break down. So the most important thing is to have those steps to get the community involved in building the well, invested in it, to take ownership of it. So water committees are established so people are caring about the well. Sometimes a lot of the times when it falls into disrepair, its the washers that need to be replaced which cost about fifty cents so its something that the community basically takes ownership of and with a water committee, they can basically pay a tithe so you know, this is a very poor area. So a lot of it lives off of subsistence farming so basically what youre not eating, youre selling. So sometimes its as little as a few, like, twenty-five cents a month that you put towards that your family would put towards the well which in turn you would use to fix it if it breaks. So its a lot of ownership.

MarySue Hansell
Very interesting. How long does it take to, you know, build a well? I think our listeners have absolutely no concept of what that is, you know, even what a well is. Probably a lot of people dont even know what a well is.

Ryan Hurljack
Well, a proper well with the borehole and the piping can take a couple days to drill depending on where it is, depending on how deep you need to go. And yeah, not too long at all if you know what youre doing and you know the area.

MarySue Hansell
Does it take special equipment?

Ryan Hurljack
It takes I guess it takes a standard drill that we have. You can have bigger. It depends on the area but in Uganda, the drills we use are standard drilling rigs I guess you could say.

MarySue Hansell
You know what I wanted to ask you that I neglected to, how did you find the courage to tackle such a big problem when you were just a six year old? I mean, it was just amazing. What was going through your head?

Ryan Hurljack
Well when I was six, I thought that excuse me I thought that one well would fix the entire worlds clean water problem. I was six years old. I was naïve. I didnt understand the problem. I was six. I just understood that I wanted to do something about it and that I thought I could and I just I think it was that important naïve attitude I think that maybe if I thought when you get older, its easy to become more cynical with things. Its easier to say that oh, thats too big, I cant do that. The problem is too vast. What I can do will make no difference what so ever so its really easy to discourage yourself. So I think one of my greatest opportunities is that there was no doing that. It was okay. There is something that I can do and Im going to try to do it and even if I fail, you know, whatever. At least I tried. So I think that kind of attitude is something that is important. Its important to grow up and become more realistic and become more invested in the logistics of making things doable and sustainable and not being lofty and in the clouds but to have that perspective originally I think is important to first getting involved and to staying committed and involved.

MarySue Hansell
Now when you were young and I think even more recently, youve had just a whirlwind of media appearances and things. I saw that you were on Oprah and CNN. Oh my heavens. Tell us about some of those visits like the visit to Oprah. What was that like?

Ryan Hurljack
Well I didnt know who Oprah was when I was a kid and Im pretty sure I still dont. Im a very disconnected country person so I actually wasnt a big fan. I gave my first public speech when I was seven years old at the Kentville Rotary Club and I didnt like it very much. I went to speech therapy when I was a kid. I couldnt pronounce my words. I stuttered. I was painfully shy and I didnt like any I didnt like talking to people to be honest. It was a very big struggle for me but I remember I had a conversation with my dad and he said, you know, you cant do this by yourself so if you want people to connect and associate, you have to go out of your way to expand your comfort zone, to do something that you may not really be comfortable doing. So I tried that and step by step got more comfortable with it and eventually became acceptable I suppose. So it was interesting to have the opportunity to go on the Oprah Show, to do a whole bunch of different things, and to connect with people all around the world. Its been a great opportunity.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah. How many shows do you think you went on?

Ryan Hurljack
Dozens and dozens and dozens. Ive been able to visit forty countries. Ive been able to give key notes at international conferences. I still do local stuff around my local community and its been an honor to have that privilege to represent clean water and represent the Ryans Well Foundation now.

MarySue Hansell
Now are you a mentor to a lot of children in this regard?

Ryan Hurljack
I think actually a lot of children are mentors to me. Like I said before, Ive become an old twenty-three year old person. Ive gotten to the point where, you know, I do volunteer work. I do as much as I can but where I see the potential and the real heart of things being done in the world and all it is is kids, kids that go out of their way to be naïve, to think that they can make a difference. They are the people that keep me motivated.

MarySue Hansell
You know, it really motivates us here at Better Worldians Radio. We support a number of different charities with children and we love yours also, you know, bringing that fresh clean water to the children just must make you feel wonderful. I dont know that the listeners have the impact. I know I didnt until I saw your documentary to see, you know, the conditions that the people have. There is probably still so many like that.

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah. I think one of the big striking points for me actually is when I was involved in Ryans Well was not necessarily the idea of charity that oh no, these poor people; I need to help them because of guilt or because of X, Y, or Z. I think it was more of I thought there were kids who werent able to go to school. Like I didnt do particularly well in school when I was a kid so I thought that oh no. They dont even have the opportunity to do well if they wanted to and I think that extends to a lot of different areas that you need to give people the opportunity to go to school, to be able to have the capability to build for themselves, to have that basic education, basic dignity to live their childhood and try to grow up and make something of themselves. That was the one thing that really connects with me.

MarySue Hansell
Now where can people watch that documentary? I saw it on Amazon. Is it elsewhere or is that the place to go?

Ryan Hurljack
I guess Amazon is the place to go for everything now but I think there is a short clip on YouTube but there is the documentary, you can get it through our website or you can get it through Amazon. It was done a long, long time ago by I forget what the publishing company was actually. Yeah, but its out there and its interesting.

MarySue Hansell
It was fifty minutes and when I first tuned into it, I thought oh, Im probably not going to watch the whole fifty minutes. I couldnt keep my eyes off of it. I thought it was just amazing. Anyway, what is your website so people can go and take a look at all of the wonderful things that you have there to share?

Ryan Hurljack
Our website is Ryans Well dot CA, all one word, or you can check us out on Facebook or Twitter, at the Ryans Well on Twitter or Ryans Well Foundation on Facebook. We try to share what we do and our projects and how were able to build them and connect people with likeminded people who care about the same things, so a little bit of motivation; a lot of clean water.

MarySue Hansell
Now what is your involvement today in Ryans Well?

Ryan Hurljack
Im the founder of Ryans Well. I sit on the Board of Directors as a board member and I am a volunteer and yeah. I just play my role. Its gotten nice though. Its gotten to a point where its bigger than me. Its my community. Were able to have a great staff team in Kentville, Ontario. We have an executive director, a project coordinator, a communications coordinator that all do fantastic work. Were able to have volunteers from Canada, the United States, all around the world who pitch in and contribute their time and resources to make it all happen. So without Im just a small cog in what makes Ryans Well do the work that we do.

MarySue Hansell
But you still do a lot of speaking engagements for it and promoting it. Is that correct?

Ryan Hurljack
I remember when I was a kid actually. I was able to get a lot of time off elementary school because apparently it wasnt that important, elementary school. So I remember I did a lot of speaking when I was a kid and slowly more and more as I got older and I had to actually go to school and do different things. But I try to sneak in to do things whenever I can.

Raymond Hansell
Wow. Youve come a long way from that six-year-old-boy that said boy, I think maybe I can solve all of the water problems in the world by just getting this seventy dollars by doing chores and but I think a lot of our listeners hear that and take heed and theyre saying geez. So many big things started in such small ways with great intentions. I think thats what youve really set an example out for everybody to follow and now you can watch it from a different perspective as an adult and as somebody that is playing more of an advisory and mentor role. So my hats off to the work that youre doing and were going to be talking more after the break with Ryan about some more of the details about where he is going in this journey with Ryans Well. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Were back now with Ryan Hurljack, the founder of Ryans Well.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Ryan. This is Greg. How are you doing?

Ryan Hurljack
Hi, Greg. Not too bad. How about yourself?

Gregory Hansell
Pretty good. Actually its been great just listening to the whole story, you know, the journey from when you were six to where you are now. I think when I was six, I was throwing Legos across the room, not even building anything, so I think its really incredible. I wanted to let the listeners know a little bit more about some of the great programs at Ryans Well. I was hoping first you could tell me a bit about the Youth in Action Education Program.

Ryan Hurljack
Well the Youth in Action Education program is something that weve had for a little bit on our website and its basically a tool to incorporate water issues and motivation into the curriculum so its for a series of different subjects all throughout elementary and middle school that we have available on our website and its been a very effective tool that a lot of teachers have used all around the world. So its something that we have there that is fantastic and that people should take advantage of.

Gregory Hansell
What are some of the educational issues that come up in the program?

Ryan Hurljack
Some of the educational issues?

Gregory Hansell
Sure.

Ryan Hurljack
Well its just incorporating water into geography and into civics, into match, into basically anything that you would teach in ordinary curriculum. So its incorporating water into all of those things to help youth better understand the issue through academics.

Gregory Hansell
Very neat. You know, I saw on the website the can you imagine quiz for kids that is really trying to get them to see, you know, what life is like for the communities that theyre helping. Tell us a little bit about that quiz first of all.

Ryan Hurljack
Well Im actually not 100% familiar with that quiz. Which one is it? Sorry.

Gregory Hansell
Its just a neat quiz I saw. I was just curious whether to see if it was showing up in the Youth in Action program but it just actually walks kids through what the experience would be like in these different countries that they are participating in and giving them trying to grow their sense of their empathy so they really know what theyre helping out with. Is that kind of empathetic outlook an important aspect of the educational process?

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah. Its tying in the educational material to empathy, to constructive things that go towards the work. So its one of those things that encourages youth to think outside the box and to really connect with issues that are sometimes lofty and sometimes hard to grasp like clean water where its hard to not realize the extent of the problem and the extent of what you can do to do something about it, so its pretty important.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great. You know, what do you tell young people that arent sure that they can make a difference?

Ryan Hurljack
Well I guess its hard because sometimes youre in a situation where you feel like you cant. You feel like youre insignificant. You feel like your impact will be so small in the grand scheme of things that its not even worth trying in the first place. But I think I know for me, when I first started, I would have when I was in my grade one classroom, when I raised my hand and said I wanted to raise seventy dollars for a well, my teacher raised an eyebrow and was really surprised. They said really Ryan? Because I wasnt the kid that took initiative. I wasnt the kid who did well in school. I might as well have been wallpaper. I was just there. And you know, nine times out of ten, I may have just failed and not even gotten to the seventy dollars but I think the act of taking the very first step to try to do something in my own way, no matter how limited my understanding of the actual project and trying to do something because I connected with it, I think that was the most important thing, that first step. When you find something that you care about, whether its with water or its volunteering or something in your community, that if you can take that first step to try to do something about it, thats the hardest. If you can do that and have the sincere passion to try to do something about it, then I think thats the most important thing.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, absolutely. You know its funny. I wanted to ask you earlier about that seventy dollars because you know, how do you think things would have been different if your parents had just given you that seventy dollars rather than kind of encouraged you to earn the money and then go out and encourage others as well?

Ryan Hurljack
Well first I thought it was a failure that I wasnt able to persuade my parents to give me seventy dollars and then actually I think I was a little bit bitter about it too because the project was supposed to be it had a fundraising goal of forty days to raise the seventy dollars and by the time that it had gone by, I only raised I think thirty dollars or so. So there was another failure and I was a little bit bitter but I think those failures as I viewed them then were you know, stepping stones. Sometimes you have to fail to be able to learn to succeed and failures are just, you know, learning experiences in disguise. Without those, I wouldnt have been able to get the foundation where it is today. Yeah.

Gregory Hansell
Definitely. So what does it feel like now that you can kind of help and that Ryans Well can help you know, other kids get involved? What personally have you taken have you gained from being a big part of that?

Ryan Hurljack
I think Ive been able to gain probably the most important thing is to work and to volunteer with so many people who have a care and have a passion to make a difference in the world no matter how small, to go out of their way to do big things, and that everyone has a role to play and to be connected with those people and to grow up around it I think has given me a very rounded perspective on that its important to do those things when youre a kid, when youre a teenager, and when youre grown up, and to incorporate volunteering into whatever you may do.

Gregory Hansell
I know that you also do kind of Skype calls with kids around the world. How does that work?

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah, well a lot of through the Youth in Action and through the education stuff that we have on our website and through the Ryans Well documentary, a lot of kids and it sometimes shows up in the curriculum in very random countries like Japan and Korea and Taiwan and just who knows why. But so and sometimes the kids are very interested in the story and interested and get motivated. So sometimes I am able to do Skypes with classrooms and to answer some questions and to maybe give a little bit of advice on how to get involved. Yeah.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah it must be really cool just to be able to kind of play that part around the world because youre seeing also some of the classrooms, right? Are they like video calls usually?

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah like video calls. I think its really good today. We have such great technology that connects one end of the globe to the other and is would be a shame not to be using these things. So yeah, absolutely.

Gregory Hansell
So tell us also about the School Challenge Program and what that involves.

Ryan Hurljack
So the School Challenge Program is essentially a fundraising campaign that we gear towards schools. They can find different projects on our website and elect to set a goal to fundraise for and we help give them the tools and things they need to help fundraise for it so its something thats geared for people who want to get involved with Ryans Well to have the tools and capability to do it.

Gregory Hansell
Is that whole schools or classrooms or you know, what level does that work at?

Ryan Hurljack
Sometimes the school, sometimes its classrooms. Its all different levels from elementary to high school and that have participated and that we have been able to help raise a bulk of our projects from so its something that has been incorporated since the Ryans Well Foundation began and is one of the driving forces that allows us to exist today. So were really fortunate to have that support.

Gregory Hansell
How many schools usually participate? I guess that varies a bit but how many schools worldwide do participate in every goal?

Ryan Hurljack
Well some schools participate on a smaller level, some on a bigger level. I think it would probably be a few dozen maybe who participate and give us the support, yeah. Probably a little bit more than that but yeah.

Gregory Hansell
So I saw I think it was a 2013 challenge on the website that had been in Haiti and that you actually blew past that goal by quite a bit. What is the goal this year?

Ryan Hurljack
Well this year we have a series of different projects that we try to fundraise for and we have them posted on our website and were trying to do work in Kenya right now. Its something that I think we were just fundraising for last week and I think we actually may have fundraised for that actually. We may have got our goal. But right now were doing work in Kenya and in Uganda we still have some underfunded projects and in Ghana were looking at doing a little bit more work. So there is always stuff to be done and more work on the go so were always active.

Gregory Hansell
So obviously, Ryans Well has been such a huge part of your life but looking at the documentary and reading the website, it seems like one of the biggest benefits that youve gained is a brother in Jimmy. I was hoping we could talk a little bit about him and how that experience started and where it is now.

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah, absolutely. When I was in grade two, my grade two teacher heard about what happened in grade one and said oh, thats really neat. Why dont we expand on this and get our classroom here pen pals at the school where the well was built? So we all got pen pals and my pen pal ended up to be this kid named Jimmy and so I started writing to Jimmy for three years and we wrote back and forth a lot and then I met him when I went to Uganda and we hung out. We became best friends and you know but he was there. He was an orphan but he was being raised by his aunt and he was going to school so we just kept in contact afterwards. Then there was a civil war at that point that was escalating in Uganda with the something called the Lords Resistance Army and it was at the peak of violence and they operate through abducting child soldiers. So and they moved into the district where Jimmy was in Apac and they came into Jimmys village and he was abducted along with his cousins and a whole bunch of other people in the village and they tied them up and were leading them off into the bush. And as they were leading them off to the bush, Jimmy, he would have been thirteen at the time, he chewed through the ropes that were binding his hands and he ran off into the bush and escaped while they were shooting at him. He had come back to his village the next morning and the rebels had burned the village down and the people that were left blamed Jimmy for them burning the village down, that they wouldnt have done that if he didnt run away. He was so its pretty dramatic stuff. So and he was thirteen. So he essentially became an outcast in his own village.

Gregory Hansell
Thats horrible.

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah. We heard about this all two weeks later from a contact of ours who was facilitating water projects in a different region and we thought we had to do something. We were sending a couple bucks for his schooling at the time because in Uganda you have to pay for your schooling after grade six but we thought we were doing something more so we were able to get him to Canada on a visitors visa to attend a conference, found out more about what actually happened, and Jimmy was actually able to claim refugee status and yeah, move to Canada. He became my brother and hes had a long way. When he got to Canada, his English would have been like my French so not great. But they put him right into school where he was supposed to be at grade eight and he worked harder than anyone I have ever known in my life and he has a smile that lights up on his face every day and yeah. He was able to go to school, graduate high school, graduate university, and then hes actually working in western Canada right now. Actually he got married last two weeks ago in Canada. So hes a big grown up now. Hes twenty-five.

Gregory Hansell
Here at the studio, we wanted to give our congratulations to Jimmy.

Ryan Hurljack
Ill pass it on. Yeah. But hes come a very long way so to see Jimmy where he was and where he is now is incredible.

Gregory Hansell
Do you still see him a lot?

Ryan Hurljack
Yeah. I saw him a couple of weeks ago. I was the best man at his wedding and its hard though because hes in Western Canada so Im in Ontario here for now. So every once in a while now.

Gregory Hansell
Thats an incredible story and again, give Jimmy our congrats. So I wanted to ask you also how your outlook has changed, you know, your worldview in the years since beginning this organization.

Ryan Hurljack
Its interesting. I think I spoke a little bit about I saw the clean water problem when I was a kid as simple. I just do X and Y and then it all happens. Then you grow up and you realize about the complications of things and the gritty work that needs to be done. I think its I think its actually motivating. I like challenges. Its not that I actually succeed. I fail a lot of the time but to try your best and do something that you sincerely believe in I think is really important and to I was able to find that. I was lucky to participate in getting people clean water. I was able to find my puzzle piece when I was a kid and I think a lot of people in this world, not necessarily with water, but have that, have their puzzle piece that they need to just try to jam on the puzzle board and find out where it is. Sometimes it takes being naïve. Sometimes it takes acting like a six year old. But to rob yourself of something that you could have an impact in I think is very not the way you want to live your life. So just have the courage to do that and see what unfolds.

Gregory Hansell
Your parents were so supportive of you at the beginning. What do you want to tell to parents out there and, you know, what has that meant to you and how has it been a part of that outlook?

Ryan Hurljack
Well its give and take I think with my parents. When I first started the project, they thought they were setting me up for failure. They thought oh, its seventy dollars. Hes never going to do it. Whatever. Then when it was $2,000, they thought hes never going to do it. Like, this is so bad and so it was a little bit of they werent totally onboard. Then I think I finally brought them around and they were able to become part of the project and help me along with the rest of my family and the rest of my friends and community. But I think one of the most important things as a parent that you can do with your kid is to allow them to make mistakes and to allow them to do things that they may care about even if its in a small way and just give them the capability to do that, not necessarily to force them. I remember when I was a kid, there were plenty of things that you know, people said you should care about that I was busy throwing Legos like you. I think its important to be a kid and to let people go at their own pace and realize that what motivates and is passionate for someone might not be for someone else. Were all not the same person. We all have different things that we like to give back to and sometimes that may mean doing something extraordinary when youre six and to give people clean water. Sometimes it could be different. It could be volunteering with a sports team. It could be volunteering with your own community, something with the environment, something with cancer research. There are so many good causes that need people to champion that you just find the thing that motivates you I think is important.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. I think thats right. I think thats right. So Ryan, whats next for you? Are there other big problems that you want to tackle? I know youre recently out of college so whats the next big step?

Ryan Hurljack
Well for the foundation, we have lots more goals, lots more projects on the way, and I participate and try to do what I can and help volunteer with that. On a side note, I just finished a contract with a youth organization in Ottawa for the last six months but now Im nice and unemployed like so many of my peers so volunteering in the meantime and job hunting. So yeah. Well see what happens.

Gregory Hansell
Well good luck. You know, in the meantime, how can people help contribute to the mission at Ryans Well?

Ryan Hurljack
You can get involved. You can visit our Facebook and Twitter page. Its at the Ryans Well on our Twitter and the Ryans Well Foundation on Facebook or visit our website to find out more about or if youre a teacher, the Youth in Action Program and what we use for educational materials, how we get involved, and why we do the work that we do. If its not that, to find some motivation to find what you care about and yeah. Its a great team that we have and we try to help people find their niche and find their puzzle piece.

Gregory Hansell
Thats great. Thank you. So you know, there is a question I ask every week of all guests at the end of the show and that question is how do you hope the work that is done at Ryans Well and what youve done to help bring it about and your own contribution, how are you hoping that that is making the world a better place? We have about two minutes.

Ryan Hurljack
How do I hope its make a wow. What a loaded question to ask people.

Gregory Hansell
Its at the end too so theres not a lot of time, you know.

Ryan Hurljack
No, I think its just you do what you can. You play a role and I think even the experience of trying to do something and trying to become involved I think is something that is so internal that you need if you find that thing, if you find your niche, if you find your puzzle piece, that you need to have that first of all. You cant rob that of yourself and if youre able to incorporate it into your life where youre able to give back, I think its something that you shouldnt rob of yourself and you shouldnt rob of the world. So get involved. Find things you care about and make a difference even if its in a small way.

Raymond Hansell
This is an amazing story. Ive got to tell you, Ryan, this is Ray again, and I think we heard a lot today. One of the things I was listening to and Ive heard it before but this I think is very unique is you know, starting out as a little child. You see yourself as wallpaper but you step out of that wall and you take that one first step and volunteer. Your teacher is looking at you like oh, this is not for real. This is Ryan. But you take that step and you learn from that, that taking that first step is a matter of doing things that you mentioned over and over again, failing forward, taking that step, failing lots of times, but keeping those puzzle pieces moving and taking that step and taking that step. That is I think what I think I take out of this entire thing is that first step makes all the difference in the world. It starts the process moving and suddenly there is a groundswell of a movement that is just happening all over the world. So my commendations for you for that. Its been an amazing journey listening about your story. Im sure its going to continue. Im sure youre excited about the next step in your life as we all are excited to hear more about that and all the best to you. I really appreciate you joining us today here on Better Worldians Radio.

Ryan Hurljack
Thanks so much for having me. Its great to be here.

Gregory Hansell
Thanks, Ryan.

Raymond Hansell
Amazing, amazing story.

MarySue Hansell
Thanks, Ryan.

Raymond Hansell
As we end our show, wed like to share out Better Worldians mission to all of our Better Worldian listeners. That is that we strive to make the world a better place by encouraging the very best in everyone, focusing on the positive, thinking positive values and positive actions. In short, what were trying to do here is bring out the better worldians in everybody so that we can all make it a better world. Today we heard great examples of that from our guest and well hear more about that in the coming weeks. Please listen next week when well be talking with Raj Sisodia about his book, Conscious Capitalism. Raj will talk about why he believes entrepreneurs are the true heroes in a free enterprise economy. Wed like to thank everyone today for joining us on Better Worldians Radio. In the meantime, you can also join us at the Better Worldians community at Better Worldians dot com and please, everyone, until next time be a better worldian.