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From Medford to Tanzania:

News & Features | April 27, 2010

Dory Gannes

Most twenty-somethings are battling the insecurities of after-college life, agonizing over how to apply that impressive degree to the, gasp, real world. But Fletcher student Dory Gannes replaced post-grad confusion with a steadfast mission and, by the ripe age of 24, fully achieved it.

Gannes’ joint primary school and community center project—a product of two years of intensive fundraising, labor, and negotiations—opened its doors to Tanzanian children on January 11. The institution unites paying students with young kids whose families can’t even fund school uniforms, books, or lunches. The mission behind her innovative approach was to combat social imbalance around the common goal of education; her aspirations immediately came to fruition.

“I received progress reports from nursery school kids last week,” said Gannes enthusiastically. “Seven of our top 12 students were orphans who had been sponsored. It’s now clear that there is no separation between material wealth and academic success. All the kids needed was a chance.”

Gannes’ ambitious initiatives also reach across gender and age. Along with a nursery school for Olevolos’ youngest kids, Gannes introduced a secondary school program for adolescent students, which encompasses a hands-on tutoring resource. To revitalize female empowerment, she also organized an adolescent girls leadership program and a widows group—a collection of Tanzanian women that collaborate to establish sustainable businesses. And, to add a little fun to the initiative, Gannes started a Saturday morning recreational program, which had grown to a staggering 92 kids as of last weekend.

“I’d say it all began when I first went to East Africa on a safari in 1994 with my mom,” recalls Gannes. “I came back the summer after my sophomore year and taught English at a local school. When I left, I continued to think of ways I could give back that would last longer than things like shoes and other items volunteers hand out.”

When she returned the following summer, her budding ideas led her, of all places, to chicken coops. She thought a chicken coop could be a great asset to a rural community because of the long lifespan of chickens and the marketable quality of eggs. Gannes managed to accumulate $5,000 through soaring donations from friends, family, and other proponents, which she dedicated to construction. But before long, Gannes was itching to do more. “It was all great until I looked around and realized that where the chickens were staying was far nicer than any school or home for the kids,” she said.

Dory Gannes

Gannes’ aspirations first drew her to an orphanage, but she quickly changed gears.  “An orphanage just doesn’t have the capacity to influence kids in the same way that education does,” she said.

Once construction signaled the engendering of education, Gannes wasted no time. She started a nonprofit organization to raise money, which earned official recognition in 2007. But funding didn’t all come from the wallets of charitable adults; many donations were funded by students, who continue to organize fundraisers and support the cause in local communities across the country.

“There’s a group of kids right now that are having penny wars for the month of April and have raised $600 so far,” said Gannes. “And then there’s a boy named Benjamin from Michigan who grew vegetables at a local farmers market and donated $5,000.”

With steep funding under her belt, Gannes began collaborating with locals to begin the school’s construction. But the task was more complex than locating bulldozers and scrap wood. Gannes had to convince locals why expansive resources should go towards an educational facility. She had to convince them why the greatest gift to impoverished children would be equal access to knowledge.

“The village community didn’t directly understand how this building would help them,” said Gannes. “I was so eager to get kids in to show village how important education is and the difference it can make in their lives.”

Gannes explained how impoverished children traditionally have significantly less access to educational resources. “The government says education is free but in order to attend, students must have a uniform, shoes, and materials,” said Gannes. “This makes it impossible for some families to send kids to school.”

Along with supervising the project’s nitty-gritty details, Gannes is a key player in the lives of her swarming young peers. Her intimate relationship with the local children has become the very heart of her campaign. “It’s all about the kids,” said Gannes. “I know when they get As on their exams, I know when they’re sick. It makes the project personal to me. It’s always important to remember who you’re doing the work for.”

Despite the project’s burgeoning success in Olevolos, Gannes stresses how expansion is not in her agenda. “I think it’s important to have long-term commitments,” she said. “We have to finish something that we started, and I don’t want to spread myself thin.”

By focusing her energy on this village alone, Gannes can best fulfill her favorite role: passionate cheerleader for the success of the village children. Even from the across the globe, Gannes contributes new academic perspectives and theories to on-site helpers and brainstorms ways the project can reach its fullest potential.

But ultimately, to her delight, Gannes’ role is slowly shrinking; local managers and villagers alike are finally taking it upon themselves to introduce educational values into the framework of village society. “This is a community-based project, and ultimately I wont be needed,” she said. “That is the end goal—the very definition of the project having been successful.”