“That’s when I realized there were issues that we don’t really consider until we pay attention to them,” says Izzeldin, a former student at the University. from Toronto to Scarborough originally from Sudan. “And I started thinking about how I could be part of a solution.”
Izzeldin started asking locals what they wanted – most said clean water, which almost 60% of Sudanese people don’t have access to. So in 2020, Izzeldin established a federally incorporated nonprofit that has now built wells in 12 rural communities in Darfur, a region in western Sudan. Dubbed The Wishing Well Company, the non-profit organization offers a way to use a well to grant someone else’s wish.
Izzeldin started and ran his nonprofit organization on his own, though he consults with communities to choose well locations and exclusively hires locals to build them.
“Unemployment in the area is a very big problem,” says Izzeldin, a former amateur basketball player who graduated from U of T Scarborough in 2021 with a bachelor of science. “I could have turned to companies, but there are also very competent people who specialize in facilitation and water supply in the region. They have the required skills and are simply not hired.
In addition to receiving direct donations, the nonprofit has a crowdfunding platform built into its website. Anyone can launch their own fundraising campaign and receive a personalized social media marketing package, as well as photo and video updates on the construction of the well. They then receive a certificate and a photo of the sign displayed in front of their well, which fundraisers can name after a person of their choice.
“What’s really cool for me is that all the wells built so far have been under the names of deceased people. It’s a way for families to maintain the impact of their loved ones,” Izzeldin said.
The Wishing Well Company installs hand-pumped water wells that can last for decades with proper maintenance (photo courtesy of The Wishing Well Company)
Because the water crisis is partly caused by climate change, Izzeldin also wanted to offer something to reduce reliance on single-use plastic. Thus, the company sells branded water bottles with a specialized lid to hold liquid flavors; users can control whether they want to drink plain or flavored water by switching a dial.
The more Izzeldin researched water insecurity, the more he learned about its pervasive impacts. Darfur has been experiencing a 20-year civil war and several conflicts are fueled by competition over water. Drinking unsafe water also causes preventable illnesses that are compounded by the lack of health care infrastructure. And where the only wells are far from villages, many children – especially girls – are taken out of school to spend hours fetching water for their families.
“Once we made sure that water sources were established nearby to keep the children in school, we wanted to remove other barriers that stood in the way of pursuing higher education,” says Izzeldin. “The vision was that children deserve to dream freely, regardless of the circumstances in which they grow up.”
This vision prompted the non-profit organization to launch a foundation last September to provide full scholarships to young Africans facing financial barriers who have already funded the tuition of a dental student and a medical student.
The foundation is also committed to establishing health care facilities in rural communities. His current campaign aims to build a medical center in Abdoun, Sudan, named after the late Omar Elhassan, a young man known for his generosity.
Izzeldin continued to ask locals what they wanted and is now filming their responses as an ongoing series of videos for The Wishing Well Company’s social media accounts. “We’re trying to give a voice to the neglected people in these rural areas that aren’t really covered by popular news,” Izzeldin says. “We cannot forget that these people exist.
While filming, he met an elder who was in charge of bringing water to several villages and went blind after contracting an infection from the unsanitary water. Izzeldin says the story inspired him to pursue medical school and that he hopes to become a doctor who travels to remote parts of Africa to provide care.
Izzeldin wants to build a team and expand the work of his organization across Africa. Applications will soon be posted on the company’s Instagram account.
“It’s something we should all do when we’re in a privileged position. We should help.