Ryan Hreljac is a third year King's student who is studying international development studies and political science. (Photo: Chelcie Soroka)

King's student founded international water and sanitation charity

Still working for his national charity, Ryan Hreljac is in his third year at King's


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Ryan Hreljac talks about how Ryan's Well Foundation evolved from one well to a national charity

Ryan Hreljac walks from the University of King's College campus to his house in a quiet and unassuming way. The Ontario resident is a modest guy. Like most students who come to King's, he was attracted to the university's Foundation Year Program.

"I really loved the FYP program and King's just seemed like my kind of place," Hreljac says.

However, unlike most of his classmates in international development studies, Hreljac actually has more than 13 years experience in helping people in Africa and he's only 20-years-old.

At the age of seven, he started his own charity to raise money to provide access to clean water for people in Africa.

Only seven-years-old

In 1999, when Hreljac was in Grade 1, his school was raising money to help people in Africa. His teacher said $1 would buy a pencil, $2 a blanket and $70 a well. Seven-year-old Hreljac thought everyone had access to clean water just like he did. Hreljac's teacher said some people had to walk five kilometres to get clean water.

Hreljac remembers thinking his hometown of Kemptville was the whole world. "How far was five kilometres? My teacher said 5,000 steps and that didn't help at all,” Hreljac says. “But I remember I counted the steps it took me to get from my classroom to the water fountain... I remember I counted 10."

Just starting out in school, Hreljac says he was always told to share what he had excess of, "so I felt I had an obligation to share," he says.

Hreljac did chores around his house for four months to earn the $70 needed to buy a well.

Shortly after, he realized one well wouldn't fix the problem.

"I was like, 'Oh, it must be just two wells then. It must be just three wells then...' I thought back to the 10 steps it takes me to get to a water fountain. The fairness and justice principle of it, and the fact that I was able to do something and continue to live my life, you know, why not?" he says.

Ryan's Well Foundation is a registered non-profit charity, based out of Kemptville Ont., that has helped more than 736,000 people in 16 countries around the world get access to clean water, by helping local organizations build hundreds of wells and latrines.

Hreljac says the focus of the foundation named after him is, "to bring clean water to people in the world who are water-stressed... and helping them to take ownership of that water."

Earlier in November, Hreljac won the Lewis Perinbam award in International Development from the World University Service of Canada.

Hreljac says, "it's in honour of someone who does volunteer work for an extended period of time for the global community."

An East Coast education

Hreljac is the first member of his family to go to King's. He is in his third year of studying international development studies and political science.

"They try to integrate hands-on experience as much as they can but there's only so much they can do in the university process,” Hreljac says. “It's interesting to learn about issues in the international community and political science community from a different angle."

Robert Huish is assistant professor of International Development Studies at Dalhousie University. He teaches Hreljac two courses, one is about domestic volunteering.

He says Hreljac acts as a kind of role model for other students.

Huish says Hreljac is "a very soft-spoken and humble individual in the classroom but his past experience with this project certainly stands out and motivates other students in the class.

"I think many students realize that when they've actually got Ryan in his class; that he's actually done this excellent work overseas, it comes almost as a shock," Huish says.

"People come to him. They realize the work he's done and I think they realize he's just a regular guy like everyone else. That in itself is a motivation."


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