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A letter from Uganda addressed to the Grade 2 classroom of a little boy who dreamed of building wells in Africa arrived in this small southeastern Ontario city more than four years ago.

"Dear Ryan," it began in big, printed letters. "My name is Akana Jimmy. I like soccer. Our house is made of grass. How is America? Your friend Akana Jimmy."

Ryan Hreljac, who had just spent the past year raising $2,000 to build a well in Jimmy's village, sent a letter back to his new pen pal.

"Dear Jimmy," he wrote. "It must be cool to have a house made out of grass. I am 8 now.

"Do you drink from my well every day? What is your favourite subject at school? I am going to Uganda when I am 12. My house is made of bricks. Write back soon. Your friend, Ryan."

Today, Ryan, 12, and Jimmy, 14, live under the same roof in Kemptville.

Jimmy's arrival in Canada is the latest chapter in Ryan's remarkable humanitarian odyssey.

The seventh-grader has raised $800,000 to build 70 wells since he was 6 and first learned that people in Africa were dying of contaminated water.

He has been featured on Oprah Winfrey, honoured by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and received communion from Pope John Paul in Rome last month.

Ryan's parents, Susan and Mark Hreljac, recently helped Jimmy leave Uganda after he was abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and managed to escape.

He was granted refugee status in September.

Now he's part of the busy Hreljac household with Ryan, Jordan, 14, and Keegan, 9. The Hreljacs are his legal guardians.

"He's been welcomed with open arms," Mrs. Hreljac said.

She said her three birth sons say " 'This is our brother Jimmy.' He calls us Mom and Dad."

The affable teen is enrolled at St. Michaels Catholic High School where he plays on the soccer team and is a cross-country runner.

"It's great," said Jimmy, flashing a broad smile. "I like it."

So far, Grade 9 English is the biggest challenge for Jimmy, whose native language is Lwo.

But he's already scoring high marks in math and adjusting to life in this city of 15,000.

The Hreljacs wanted to adopt Jimmy after first meeting him in July of 2000 in his native village, Angolo, to celebrate Ryan's well.

More than 5,000 villagers turned out to meet the family.

"I just kept looking around and saying 'Where's Jimmy?' " Ryan said.

The two boys found each other and cut the ribbon at the well.

They spent three days getting to know each other, playing cards and soccer.

"He's a great kid," said Mr. Hreljac, an Ottawa police officer, of Jimmy. "Great kid with a big heart."

Adoption laws prevented the couple from legally adopting Jimmy because he was older than 3 and not a blood relative.

However, they were able to get him to Canada on a visitor's visa last spring.

"We had to do something," Mrs. Hreljac said. "Once he got abducted, all bets were off."

The Lord's Resistance Army killed Jimmy's father when he was 4 and also abducted his mother.

Led by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, the LRA has abducted more than 8,000 children in the past year, forcing them to perform military or sexual services.

Jimmy was living with his aunt when he and four cousins were abducted with other children by the LRA last October. "They said some of them were going to go fight," he said.

He managed to escape after a few hours by chewing through a rope and fleeing into the bush. His cousins were killed.

Ryan got the idea of funding a well in Africa in Grade 1.

He asked his parents for money by doing extra chores, than hit up his classmates, friends and neighbours.

He eventually raised the $2,000 and the well was built at Angolo Primary School, which Jimmy attended. Ryan's Well Foundation has since raised $800,000 for wells in Africa.

Ryan's well had a huge impact on Jimmy and his classmates. Before it was built, Jimmy had to get up in the middle of the night and make several return trips to fetch water at the nearest well -- eight kilometres away.

Ryan's Grade 2 teacher at Holy Cross Elementary School, Lynn Dillabaugh, decided to set up a pen-pal project with the students in Angolo. Jimmy was matched up with Ryan. "It just seems to be in him that he wants to help people," she said.

He is this year's winner of the World of Children Founder's Award, a $15,000 (U.S.) scholarship, to be announced at the United Nations in New York today.

"This is about a young person who wants to make a difference," said David Lippy, president of the World of Children Inc. "He's an inspiration."

Ryan's charitable work has since taken him to schools and conferences in China, Japan, Australia, Italy, Canada and the United States. At home in Kemptville, he is assistant captain of his hockey team and plays basketball. He's also a fan of the television comedy, The Simpsons.

"It started out with water but it's much more than that," Mrs. Hreljac said. "I don't believe in coincidences. I believe they were connected for a reason. I don't know where their paths will take them but I think they are both destined for good things in the world."

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