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Coops to Classrooms

Coops to ClassroomsDory Gannes (F'11) is making her mark in Tanzania through her educational initiative, The Olevolos Project.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.16.10] When Dory Gannes (F'11) went to Tanzania in 2005 to teach English for a summer, she had no idea that a year later she would found a nonprofit to build a primary school and community center in the village of Olevolos. She also had no idea that the inspiration for this project would grow out of an initial plan that involved, of all things, chicken coops.  

"While I was working there that summer I noticed a lot of volunteers coming in and leaving money, food and clothing, and I just got it in my head that I wanted to find a more sustainable way to help the community."

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After flying back to her home state of Michigan, Gannes, a first-year student at The Fletcher School, came up with the idea of building chicken coops as both a source of food and revenue for the village.

"The chicken coops were relatively easy to construct and I saw people selling eggs everywhere, so I did some research and found out that chickens live up to seven years. It just made sense," she says. "I wrote down the idea and sent it to friends and family, and suddenly I had $5,000 in donations and a first-class plane ticket to return the following summer."

After building two coops near orphanages in Moshi and one in Olevolos, Gannes said she began to notice another problem she wanted to tackle.

"As I was building the coop in Olevolos, I looked around and I realized the home for the chickens was nicer than the homes for the kids," she says. "I know people feel like they have these defining moments and they think 'I want to do something', but for me it was more like, you can't not do something."

Gannes filed as a non-profit and began fundraising in 2006, raising $100,000 in the first year for an initial goal of building an orphanage. Later, the organization decided that they would instead build a pre- and primary school as well as a community center, which opened its doors in January, with an on-site and an academic director keeping her up-to-date on the daily progress.

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The school brings together a combination of middle-class families who can afford school fees and orphans and other children who are unable to pay. For the latter, the school provides uniforms, books, supplies and other miscellaneous expenses.

"Everyone was excited about 'The Olevolos Project'," says Gannes. "I started getting the kids I coached in soccer here in the States involved, and they were getting really excited about the project, which was really exciting for me.

She adds, "We had one little boy growing vegetables and selling them at the farmer's market. Very quickly it started to affect not just the kids in Tanzania but also the kids in Michigan that knew about the project."

Her connection with Tanzania goes back to her youth, having firstvisited the country at the age of eight.

"My great aunt loved animals and had always wanted to go on a safari in East Africa, but by the time she was able to go her doctor said she was too sick for the trip," Gannes says. "So she sent me, along with my mother, uncle and cousin, because she felt someone should go."

It was at this timethat she first experienced the children of Tanzania, stating that to this day she still remembers the children touching her face and singing her songs, making it only fitting that over a decade later she would return to the country with the goal of making a difference in its children's lives.

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Before starting at The Fletcher School last fall, Gannes spent two years as a teacher at the Laurel School, an all-girls private school in Ohio. There she led trips to Tanzania for students and faculty to participate in service and cultural exchange.

"It's been one of the best parts about the project-you can see this cultural exchange going on and this greater understanding," she says. "The engineering class at Laurel has started doing service learning projects, making prototypes for projects they can implement over the summer. They built a chicken coop that is far better than the one I made, and this year they are designing a swing set."

Coming to The Fletcher School, Gannes hopes to gain a broader perspective for the project by learning more about international educational policy. After finishing her degree, she plans to go into a graduate program in education, continuing her focus on teaching and working closely with children both in the U.S. and in Tanzania as she plans to continue on with the project after graduating.

"The project hasn't been easy-you try so hard and it's really so difficult to help people sometimes," says Gannes. "But the reason why it's so great is because there's clearly a community in Tanzania that is benefiting, and then there's clearly a community in the States that's benefiting. It's really multifaceted."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications
Photos courtesy of Dory Gannes.

 

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