recess radio program

06/18/07
Ryan, Jimmy, and One Well
    by John Cech

Summer officially begins this week, but, around the world, the search for water during the hottest months of the year has turned into an exacting, exhausting daily ritual year round. In One Well, The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss, with illustrations by Rosemary Woods from Kids Can Press, we realize just how precious this life-granting liquid is. The earth as a well is an apt and compelling image for Ms. Strauss to use because it makes palpable the need for water on a planet with growing populations drawing on this increasingly scarce resource. China and India, we learn, "are home to over one-third of the world's people," but the world well gives these countries only one-tenth of the planet's freshwater."

It's hard math, all the way through, especially when one considers that the freshwater on the globe is finite. There is not a growing supply for the demand, and it takes time -- years, actually -- for the water to recycle through the earth, into the atmosphere, and back again through preciptation. Just as there's a carbon footprint that we each leave on the environment, there's also a water mark that can be attached even to some of those common things in our lives, like a glass of milk, which takes about 49 gallons of water to produce, or a bicycle that uses 34 gallons to manufacture. Let's not get into how much water it takes to make a car, but it's a lot.

"Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink" -- the famous lines by the Ancient Mariner couldn't be more true today. Most of the water on earth is salty -- over 97%. And on continents like Africa, after years of severe drought, the quest for water can be extreme. That real, daily search is the subject of Herb Hoveller's book, Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together, also from Kids Can Press. This is the story of Ryan Hreljac (Hurl-jack) who began, when he was six years of age, to raise the money to build a well in a village in Africa where, he had learned from his teacher, the residents had to walk up to a dozen miles a day to find fresh water for their needs. As Jimmy began doing chores and odd jobs to raise the necessary funds, the costs kept growing. To properly dig the well in Africa would eventually cost $25,000. But Ryan refused to be discouraged by this seemingly Sisyphen undertaking, and he did the smart thing -- he took his quest public. And I mean Oprah.

But there's more to the story. The well brought together the children at Ryan's school who became pen pals with the children at Angolo Primary School in Uganda, in the village where the well would be built. And Ryan's pen pal, Akana Jimmy, who became Ryan's friend in the process of the project, was swept up in the civil war in Uganda and almost taken away by rebels and forced to become a child soldier. Jimmy was eleven years old by this point, and he barely managed to escape with his life and eventually made it to Canada, where the Hreljacs live, through the intersession of Ryan and his family and because of the celebrity status that Ryan had achieved for the cause of clean water. They say that many of the more important events in the ancient world happened around wells -- or other places where you can find fresh water. And I believe they still do: things like friendship, purpose, selflessness, and a spirit of our kinship in the global village.

Copyright 2007 John Cech

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Monday, 28-May-2007 15:52:58 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."