Kids helping kids

Seven-year-olds Amos and Zeke raise money for impoverished Africans

While your kids were watching SpongeBob, 7-year-olds Zeke Wagner and Amos Karlsen were raising money for clean drinking water in Africa.

While your kids were watching SpongeBob, 7-year-olds Zeke Wagner and Amos Karlsen were raising money for clean drinking water in Africa.

SN&R Photo By Anne Stokes

A pile of crumpled bills sits on the dining room table in Zeke Wagner’s Curtis Park home. Wagner and his best friend, Amos Karlsen, just began counting it. Zeke carelessly unfolds the bills and calls out numbers to a straight-laced Amos, who struggles to add it all up.

The math problem gets too complicated. Amos’ dad is called into the room. “$1,143,” he announces. The boys are 7 years old. They have more than $1,000 that they have raised sitting in front of them. “We’re sending it to Ryan’s well program,” a triumphant Zeke proclaims.

The Ryan’s Well Foundation is a charitable organization that funds the construction of wells and other health-related infrastructure in developing nations. Zeke learned about the organization this summer through the 25 minute documentary Ryan’s Well. After watching one young boy realize his dream of bringing fresh water to people in Africa, Zeke turned to his mom and said he wanted to help, too. “I had no idea how far it would go,” his mother Ann Clark explained.

Zeke was inspired by the success of Ryan Hreljac, the founder of Ryan’s Well Foundation. In 1998, Ryan set out on a mission to raise enough money to build of a well in Africa. Ryan was in first grade, the same grade that Zeke had just completed. The documentary shows footage of Ryan receiving a hero’s welcome while visiting the well he helped fund.

Zeke was impressed that a kid could make such an impact on the world. He was also stunned by the footage of women and children walking miles to retrieve water from stagnant watering holes. Only 24 percent of the homes in Africa have water piped in. Each day millions of people struggle to access water and much of it is unsuitable for drinking.

It struck a chord with Zeke. “They are drinking dirty water. It makes them really sick. I think it shortens lives a lot,” he said.

Zeke decided to take his cause door-to-door. He enlisted the help of Amos. “I asked Amos if he wanted to go around the block. I asked mom if it was OK,” Zeke said. Mom agreed and the two boys came up with a plan to encourage people to donate. They offered a coupon that could be redeemed for a drawing by Amos in exchange for a cash donation. “I drew a cheetah, a tiger, a giraffe,” Amos explained. The neighbors went for it. “We came home with, I don’t know, $20,” Zeke estimated. “The next day we wanted to do it some more.”

For the boys, the distance between themselves and the people in Uganda doesn’t make their plight less relevant. Or in the words of Amos, “That doesn’t make them get less sick.” To them, kids are kids. They are hoping to raise enough money to build a well at a school in Uganda, like Ryan Hreljac did.

While the complexity of poverty is mostly lost on them, they do understand that the people they’d like to help lack the resources to build the wells themselves, “They don’t have enough money for the things to do this. Otherwise they would,” Amos explained.

The cost of a well project depends on the scope and the location of the project. Ryan’s Well Foundation teams up with local organizations and determines what type of water system will best suit the needs of the region. In Uganda, a shallow well could cost between $3,500 and $5,000.

Encouraged by their door-to-door success, Zeke set up a donation tin in the hallway at the summer program he was attending. Families were asked to leave money in the tin to help Zeke “send aid to Africa.” They raised another $70. Next, the pair hit up their relatives. They dictated e-mails to family members asking for contributions for their cause. Grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles all chipped in. Amos contributed $25 from his allowance. Zeke won $20 from his dad a on chili-pepper-eating dare and contributed his winnings. Slowly they exceeded their goal of $1,000. They now have their sights set on $2,000.

Donors who contribute more than $1,000 to the foundation get to choose where their money goes. They also receive a letter, have their names added to the online donor list and receive a picture of the completed project. Zeke and Amos are stoked that they will be getting “a letter from Ryan,” who has celebrity status with them. It is almost as exciting as knowing more people will have access to water thanks to their efforts. Their parents are also pretty stoked that their children are dedicated to an altruistic cause.

Thanks to the efforts of two local 7-year-olds, hundreds of people half a world away will have improved access to clean water. It’s the kind of impact that most adults can’t claim. But the pair isn’t boasting about it. Amos just wants you to know, “It would be really nice if you gave a little donation.”

You can donate to their cause through Zeke Wagner’s PayPal account. Contact