Wishing well

Wishing well

Providing clean water, one village at a time
March 1, 2006

As fast as you can snap your fingers people are dying because they don’t have access to clean water. Here in Canada, we’re pretty lucky. We drink it. We use it to brush our teeth and wash our clothes. We water our gardens and wash our cars. We have water-flush toilets and a place to wash our hands afterwards so we won’t get sick. Some people even water their lawns to keep them green.

Yet, one in six people on the planet do not have access to clean water. Every day, 6,000 children die needlessly because of water-borne diseases. That’s like 20 full jumbo jets crashing every single day of the year! And that’s just the kids. Too many people are talking about what we should do, but not enough people are taking action.

There is no reason for so many people to die just because they don’t have the most basic necessity of life—clean water. I want to change that. We should all want to change that. In 1998, Mrs. Prest, my Grade 1 teacher, sparked something in me that made me want to help. It was a simple message that I have tried to pass on to others. It has grown in ways that still surprise me.

I have been working on this problem for more than half my life. I helped start an organization called the Ryan’s Well Foundation in 2001. At the foundation, we raise funds to build, to educate and to motivate. At Ryan’s Well, we raise money to build water and sanitation projects in developing countries. Sometimes it’s a well other times it makes more sense to build a protected spring or a tank that catches the rainwater. We have completed 196 projects since 1998. We have some awesome partners like Rotary, Free the Children, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, and the Ruhinda Women’s Group of Uganda.

We always work in partnership with local communities. We educate people about the necessity of clean water and sanitation, and in particular, those in developed countries about the importance of water as a life-giving resource.

But one of the most important things we do at Ryan’s Well is motivate. We always talk about the role that each of us must play, no matter who we are or how old we are, in making the world a better place.

Build, educate, motivate—that’s what we do at Ryan’s Well.


My own message is simple. Be kind. Be compassionate. Care and share what you have with others. Get involved in your community. Get involved in your world.

If we are going to be successful, more of us need to believe in a better tomorrow and then we have to work like crazy to make it happen. We all have an opportunity to set an example for our parents, our teachers, our children, and our friends. And we have an obligation to remind world leaders that they promised to give 0.7 percent of their country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to help developing countries. They still haven’t even come close to paying up!

Everyone plays a role. In the past eight years, the supporters of Ryan’s Well have raised more than a million dollars and brought clean water and sanitation to more than 350,000 people in 10 developing countries. Not bad for an organization with no full-time employees! Every single month, people from more than 90 countries visit our website. Some send us e-mails. Others help us with translations so that more people can learn about our work. People really do care about this planet. Together, we can create more positive change.

Like my friend Craig Kielburger says, we need a global shift of thinking from “Me to We.” That’s the only way we’ll meet the Millennium Development Goals and have a chance to live in peace.

I am not as naïve as I was at the age of six. I realize now that for serious positive global change, we all have to work together to find solutions to the many problems we face in the world. Governments must work together. Organizations must work together. People must work together.

There are many challenges in the world today. We can’t handle all of them, but we can each pick one. Even in the one area of water, there are lots of issues. Farmers need help to grow more food, to put in irrigation systems, and to deal with droughts, tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes. And environmental problems like air and water pollution are challenges we all face no matter what country we call home.

A couple of years ago, my friend Jean-Michel Cousteau travelled to a remote area near Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. During his research, he found piles of fishing nets, thousands and thousands of bottles, tons of plastic, airplane wings, and even a live bomb. He found garbage from over 50 countries! Jean-Michel’s story really scared me.


If we don’t do something soon about some of the water issues we face, our home, Earth, will be in big trouble. Our oceans and rivers continue to be polluted by people who have totally forgotten that one day their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will inherit this planet along with the mess we have all made.

I want to leave you with a story that I got from a man named Graham Kerr. When I was eight years old, he invited me to be on his television show. Adults might remember him as the “Galloping Gourmet.” Just before the show, he sat down with me and told me a story. He explained that in life, everyone has a cup and saucer. He said that for much of his life, his cup was overflowing into his saucer. In other words, he had way more than he needed to live a happy life. Graham told me that he kept refilling his cup from the saucer until one day he realized that it made more sense to pour what he didn’t need into someone else’s cup. He changed his way of thinking, and it made him a much happier man. He also told me that it had taken him many years to figure this out. So always try and remember that if your cup is ever overflowing, it makes sense to pour it into someone else’s cup.

We’re already more than halfway through the first decade of the new millennium. Scientists and economists have told us that we have the power to end world poverty and to end world thirst. We have the power, but do we have the will?

More adults have to start taking young people seriously. We are the future but we are also the present. Kids and adults need to work together. Change is really hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it works best when everyone works together. So share what’s in your cup because we are all connected, and the world is depending on us. Change is not easy but it is possible. No matter how old you are or where you come from, always remember to believe in your dreams and in your power to turn those dreams into reality. Hey, if a six-year-old kid can convince others to provide water to over 350,000 people in 10 developing countries, just imagine what you could do!

I pray at night for clean water not just for my family, but for every family on earth. I really hope my dreams come true one day, and I hope that yours do too.

The views and ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Canada Foundation for Innovation or its Board Directors and Members.