Deep Roots was founded in October 1998 by Mike Graglia,
while he was serving with the Peace Corps in rural Namibia, and a handful of friends and Returned
Peace Corps Volunteers in the US. One of his close friends and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers,
Joie Kallison, was the inspiration.
Bright and energetic, Joie had made an immeasurable contribution to the lives of those she touched as a
teacher in Namibia and those she had left behind at home, before she was tragically killed in a car
accident in March 1998. Joie was just 24 years old. One constant theme that spanned the ocean between
Namibia and home was Joie's complete dedication to children and their education. One of her favorite
sayings was that of Brian Andreas, a writer of
"When I die, she said, I'm coming back as a tree with deep roots. And I'll wave my
leaves at the children every morning on their way to school and whisper tree songs at night in their dreams.
Trees with deep roots know about the things children need."
With Deep Roots, Mike envisioned a groundbreaking organization that would award academically gifted and
financially needy Namibian students with scholarships for education while honoring Joie's memory.
As many of Namibia's best students cannot afford an education past the tenth grade, the launch of Deep
Roots has provided hope by realizing what Joie wanted most for the children in Namibia.
Peace Corps Memorial
Barely two years later, in May 2000, Helga Schaffrin
and Cat Hare started a very similar program for
Zambian students, then called "AKIN - Adopt a Kid In Need." As volunteers working with the development
organization DAPP (Development Aid from People
to People) they had encountered many children in rural Zambia who were barred from school due to a lack
of funds. Like Mike, they decided to establish a scholarship fund to fill this dire need. A year later,
Helga accidentally landed on the Deep Roots webpage - and thus a partnership was born.
Around the same time, Deep Roots was contacted by
Kelly Kirschner, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala at the time. In collaboration with local residents
of Chisec, he was establishing the Guatemalan non-profit
("SA Q'A CHOL NIM LA KALEBAAL SANK" - "Small steps with great impacts") which, among
other projects, runs a scholarship program for local youth. Kelly was looking for advice and assistance,
and Deep Roots decided to branch out into Latin America and take this on as a second partnership.
After a year of collaboration and getting to know each other, the three groups reorganized into one larger
Deep Roots at the end of 2002. While the US-side of AKIN was dissolved (
to be reborn as Deep Roots Zambia), SANK remained
as an independent development organization, which now acts as the implementing partner for
Deep Roots Guatemala. The original Deep
Roots meanwhile became Deep Roots Namibia.
These two mergers barely completed, Sean Salloux, a member of the Deep Roots Advisory Board,
brought a new suggestion to the table: to start a fund for kids in Nepal. On a trek in the small
mountain nation,had volunteered
at the Morningstar Orphanage, which was in desperate need of funding for the children's school fees.
A chance encounter with Sean in a San Francisco bar introduced Jeni to Deep Roots. While the details
of a new Deep Roots Nepal were being worked out,
Mark Ludwik and Nikhil Jaisighani, two class-mates of Mike's at John Hopkins'
School of Advanced International Study, mentioned that they wanted to establish a scholarship fund for
secondary education in Nepal, where both of them had served as Peace Corps Volunteers. The energy and
enthusiasm of the three led to the implementation in the spring of 2003 of what is now
Deep Roots Nepal.
All this growth has also meant a growing list of volunteers, dedicating their time and talent to making Deep
Roots work. Over the years, the organization has grown from a five-person venture to a an enterprise.
At the same time the number of children being helped has multiplied from a total of 10 students in one
country in 1999 to over 350 in four countries in 2004.
If you want to help fund education for gifted students in developing countries, please
donate to Deep Roots, Inc. If you would like to offer your services as a volunteer,
please email Volunteer Opportunities.