Improving Young Lives in Tanzania

Chris GatesChris Gates, BS '09

Executive Director of Mainsprings: The Janada L. Batchelor Foundation for Children

Chris Gates’ passion for his work comes through clearly over a broken-up call from the African bush. Gates is the Executive Director of MainSprings: The Janada Batchelor Foundation for Children (JBFC), an organization working to alleviate extreme rural poverty. 

“It’s an interesting life in general—a livelihood and a lifestyle,” he said. “You live and work in the same place and it’s 24/7, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.” That place is the small village of Kitongo, Tanzania, where MainSprings’ 50-acre campus sits on the shores of Lake Victoria. MainSprings uses a four-pronged approach to help youth out of poverty and develop their leadership skills. The organization provides housing for orphaned or abandoned girls, offers primary and secondary education for boys and girls, teaches rural economic development through an agriculture and livestock program, and partners with the government to provide access to quality healthcare.

Gates’ interest in East Africa began as a child. When Gates turned 15, his grandmother—for whom the foundation is named—agreed to take him on safari as long as he promised to perform community service in Tanzania as part of their month-long trip.

Gates volunteered at a boys’ home, and what started out as a way to see African wildlife turned into his “aha moment.” He kept in touch with the boys’ home director and returned to volunteer for several summers. But, Gates soon realized the limitations of many organizations, which reach a targeted population or have a narrow focus.

“When looking at the greater issue of poverty, I only saw holistic care as a solution,” he explained. “I really think you have to tackle a multitude of issues to make real, sustainable, long-term change.” 

Founded by Gates when he was an undergraduate student at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, MainSprings launched with its home for girls and farm and livestock program. Today, Mainsprings is devoted to effecting change throughout the entire community, providing an education and nutritious meals to hundreds of children each day, much-needed medical care to thousands of children and adults each year, full-time employment to more than 75 residents of local villages, and training and programs to help residents escape extreme poverty and live more sustainable, profitable lives. The organization has begun to build a second campus in a different village about three hours away from Kitongo, which will operate with the same holistic model. 

“The community has been extremely responsive and taken on the organization and everything we do,” Gates said. “It’s been incredible to see and why we’ve been so successful.”