Students at the Tracy Learning Center’s Discovery Charter School are going to need a bigger wall.

Three photos of a new water well in South Sudan funded in part by the efforts of a fifth and sixth grade recycling project hang in a second floor hallway at the school. A donation announced to students last week means those photos will soon have company. A lot of company.

Local businessman Mike Sandhu of Sandhu Bros. Farms visited the school March 28 and said he read in this newspaper about the students’ well project and he wanted to recognize their work.

“I had no idea you guys have been working hard to get water to people in Sudan in one of the towns,” Sandhu told them. “I applaud that at your age you’re doing all that. I wish I had done that one day when I was at your age, but I’m really glad to see what you guys are doing.”

A group of 30 students in Star Zaca’s social studies class began a 17-month project in August 2017 to raise $5,000 to pay part of the cost of a well that would provide safe drinking water in South Sudan, a country in east-central Africa.

The students organized fundraisers and ran a plastic bottle recycling campaign to raise a total of $5,745, which they sent to the nonprofit Water for South Sudan, helping build a $15,000 well that was completed Jan. 24.

Sandhu announced that he had been inspired to make a donation to build another well on behalf of the students.

“From my side, after seeing what you have done, we have decided as Sandhu Bros. Farms to give you guys $15,000 more to do whatever you are doing with the wells — whichever town the school and you guys decide to do,” Sandhu said. “I’m really glad to see our town is doing this all the way on the other side of the ocean. It’s really good. And that’s how, one by one, people can change a lot of people’s lives.”

He told the class how he started work at an early age, holding two full-time jobs when he was 17 years old, and how hard work has caused his company to grow. He said he distributes 400,000 meals each year in other countries.

“Those things have blessed me. I’ve always took some money out to help other people where I could, always,” Sandhu said. “And that’s why I say when you do good, good comes to you. Even a dollar placed to help somebody will come back better.”

What he said next stunned the teachers and students gathered for the presentation.

“And I’m going to make you kids a second promise,” he said. “If the school is OK and the parents are OK, I will put a well under every kid’s name — that well’s name would be you kids. One well for every kid, and I will do that separately.”

Students gasped. Even the school’s executive director, Virginia Stewart, who knew only about the original $15,000 donation, wasn’t prepared for the second announcement.

“I’m stunned. I’ve never had anyone offer something so generous. But I also believe the sincerity of Mr. Sandhu, just talking about giving makes you a better person, and he certainly showed that today,” Stewart said to the class. “It’s the most generous thing I have ever experienced. In all the years I have been in education, what you did was great, but what you also created — the ability to happen — is shocking. It is just the most generous thing I have heard.”

The total cost to build 31 wells will be $465,000.

“After I saw in the Tracy Press what you guys did, to do this, we are with you. This is all of our town, the kids of this town,” Sandhu said. “If I can’t do this for you, then I don’t deserve what I have, I can tell you that.”

On Tuesday, he said he didn’t initially plan to pledge funds for more than the one well, but he made up his mind quickly after he met the students and saw their faces.

“I couldn’t believe what they had gone through to do this and for somebody they don’t know,” he said. “I just wanted those kids to have a memory.”

Unlike the original well project, the new wells will be built not only in South Sudan but wherever there is a need for clean water.

“We are trying to get the data from other countries and choose places where it is most needed so it’s not just one country. We will be looking all over the world,” Sandhu said. “I’m hoping to start the first well within 30 days.”

Zaca fought back tears as she talked about the donation with her students.

“So when Ms. Stewart first told me that someone wanted to come in and donate $15,000 for another well, I was in shock. I couldn’t even find the words to tell her how I felt because I was in shock,” Zaca said. “It makes me proud of the kids. We’re always telling them, you need to work hard for other people, and when you do good, it really affects them. Not only have I been telling them, but now there is proof: When you do good, it does really affect people.”

Nora Coutts, one of the students gathered for the presentation, watched in disbelief when Sandhu revealed his plans.

“I just thought it was really generous, ’cause we raised a lot of money, and to donate that much to a lot of students that wanted to just help out of the goodness of their heart, I just think that was really kind of him,” Nora said.

Kimberly Ng was pleased with what she and her classmates’ had accomplished.

“About 30 of us all worked really hard for months to crush bottles and raise money for it, and we went past our goal, which is really amazing, and then to have this and have more wells for people who need clean water is just really amazing,” she said.

Seeing photos of South Sudanese villagers with their new well has been a source of pride for the students involved the project, and now they have more to look forward to.

“Looking at the pictures hit home and it really made it like this is real and now you’re seeing the people you helped,” Zaca said. “That’s 31 more villages where the children have the freedom to do what they want. They have the freedom to go to school and get an education. You really have given them access to so many opportunities that they didn’t have before.”

Sandhu hopes the Discovery Charter students’ efforts will motivate others to help where they can.

“I’m hoping when these kids grow up they will remember when they do these things they are not unnoticed. People care, their city cares and people on the other side of the world care because they are going to able to drink water,” Sandhu said. ‘That’s how you inspire people, and they come up with different ideas and ways to help.”

Contact Glenn Moore at gmoore@tracypress.com or 830-4252.

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