Her love of Tanzania has come full circle. Anne Wells recently launched a new online store called The Ashe Collection to feature unique lines of Maasai jewelry, hand-beaded belts and sandals, Indian Dhow sail bags and wall art made by local tribespeople in East Africa. All sales directly benefit her campaign to empower women, children and communities throughout Tanzania.
Anne first traveled to Africa as a student of wildlife management in 1991 for a semester of college. She returned after graduation for several months, and the intense suffering, poverty and challenges she witnessed, particularly of the women and children, stayed with her long after she returned home.
Fast track 20 years. Today Anne has translated her concern into a campaign to empower African women and youth. How did this happen? A chance encounter with a Tanzanian Priest in 2007. “After meeting Father Dennis Mnyanyi during his brief stay in the United States, we became fast friends,” Anne recalls. “I would badger him with questions about how we could really be of service in rural villages, and finally he said ‘Just come, find groups that are truly affecting positive change, and funnel your support into them.'” So she did. When their daughters turned 3, 5 and 7, Anne and her husband David left for Tanzania in June of 2008 to tour the country in search of these grassroots programs.
That trip ultimately led Anne to create UNITE The World With Africa, a social organization whose mission is to advance women’s health, education and microfinance initiatives in Tanzania. And she welcomes everyone’s participation. “There’s a role for everyone who wants to help,” says Anne, who has built UNITE to be a “portal” through which Americans can be “of meaningful service, sharing of their time, resources and specific talents.”
With three girls of her own who wanted to get involved, Anne partnered with friends from her children’s school in Darien, CT, and together they have established Global Girls UNITE, a tween- and teen-aged girls group that has taken up the charge and is now actively fundraising and connecting with their peers in Tanzania. “They are really excited about the difference they are making,” says Anne. “These girls are creating and executing their programs completely on their own. They are so inspired and motivated! It’s thrilling for me to see.”
UNITE The World With Africa has a volunteer staff of 8, including Anne. UNITE’s work to provide supplies, resources and expertise to its field partners in Tanzania is funded by The Ashe Collection. Ashe, which means “thank you” in Kimaa – the language of the Maasai, features art, fashion and jewelry hand-crafted by African artisans who also receive the direct benefits of these sales through income generation, training and health programs.
“The Ashe Collection is a win, win, win for everyone involved,” says Anne, truly an example of what’s possible.
Don’t be afraid to follow the inspiration you receive through someone you meet by chance.