This is an article from the Spring 2014 issue of LSA Magazine. To read more stories like this, click here.
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In the first two years of the Olevolos Project, Dory Gannes (’07) was repeatedly betrayed, swindled, lied to, and intimidated. She was threatened by a man wielding a club and pretending to be a security guard, who’d been hired to frighten her. A lawyer she’d hired failed repeatedly to file essential papers and asked, again and again, for more money. When Gannes finally refused to pay more he responded, “My dear, this is not how business is done here in Tanzania.” So Gannes found someone else.
Gannes first appeared in LSA Magazine in 2006, after she completed a summer internship teaching English in Tanzania. She’d just started what she originally named the Yatima Project — “yatima” being the Swahili word for orphan — that aimed to use chickens to sustainably provide food and funding for multiple Tanzanian orphanages.
“I built the first three chicken coops and realized they were nicer than the homes where the kids were living or the schools they were attending,” Gannes says. So she scaled up: She raised more money, bought two acres of land, and built a building to house a joint primary school and community center. In 2007, the Olevolos Project was born, benefiting some of the neediest children in the small village of Olevolos.
Over the next five years, the Olevolos Project grew. At its height it employed 10 local Tanzanian staff to run myriad programs from a nursery school to an adolescent girls’ group to a livestock and agriculture project. Gannes has scaled down the broad range of programs to focus on creating an environment that provides 24-hour care and a good education.
Today, Olevolos gives 23 children, nearly all of whom are orphans, the chance to go to a private school 45 minutes outside the village. It also provides whatever additional support the students need, including food, uniforms, tutoring, books, and a community of caring supporters.
It’s critical work in a country beset with issues, from corruption to a lack of infrastructure to widespread poverty. In the 1990s, Tanzania’s education reforms made primary school available to everyone, but it didn’t create provisions for about half of the nation’s children whose families could not afford the mandatory fees for uniforms or books. Gannes says that more than half of students in Tanzania never make it through primary school. But Gannes is confident that she can, with help, get all 23 Olevolos kids through primary and secondary school.
Gannes is working to meet these objectives while also carrying out a full-time day job. Until April 2014, she worked as a Partnerships Officer at Girl Up, a United Nations campaign headquartered in Washington, D.C. Girl Up encourages American girls to fundraise, advocate for, and teach others about the issues adolescent girls face globally, such as child marriage, teen maternal death rates, and access to education. She's now working as a Development Officer at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
“The principle behind Olevolos and Girl Up are similar,” says Gannes. “Investing in kids’ education makes a big difference to everyone in the community. Girl Up gives me the chance to do this work on a broad scale; in Olevolos I see it play out with kids I know.”
Each year, Gannes makes one or two trips back to Olevolos. Between visits, the Olevolos Project’s on-site director oversees day-to-day operations and talks to Gannes over Viber (video chat) two or three times per week, depending on what’s happening on the school calendar. Last summer, Gannes designed and led an Olevolos Camp, taking the kids canoeing, camping, and on a safari.
Gannes also fundraises, helping connect donors to the kids they support. Equally as important, she connects the kids to the broader world where their dreams of becoming a pilot or a safari guide are possible, supported, and nurtured.
Since graduating from LSA, Gannes has received two master’s degrees — one in international development and human security from Tufts, and one in education from Harvard — but it was the help and support of friends at the University of Michigan that launched her global and nonprofit experiences.
“Our first [Olevolos] benefit was at the Michigan Theater — filled with Michigan students and professors and Ann Arbor families. The Michigan community has always provided our biggest fans.
“I hope it always will be that way,” she says. “I hope Michigan will always support our work, inspire us, and encourage us. Michigan is a huge part of Olevolos. I even painted the buildings [in Tanzania] maize and blue.”
To read more stories from LSA Magazine, click here.