The route from poverty and neglect in Africa, to sufficiency and success, runs from Rhode Island and Ohio, through Westport.
At least, Anne Wells’ part of that path does.
From over 7,000 miles away — though she gets there a couple of times a year — the Westport resident uplifts the lives of Tanzanian women and children, helps create jobs for tribal women and artisans, and leads service safaris. She even organizes group climbs of Kilimanjaro.
It’s a far cry from Providence, where Anne grew up. Or Kenyon College, where she studied anthropology.
But Africa always fascinated her. A semester in the bush with the Masai sold her on the love and joy of the continent — filled with “the best people on earth.”
It also opened her eyes to the vast inequalities of wealth across the globe.
Anne earned a graduate degree from the University of California School of Journalism, and joined Time Warner as a writer/editor. She was transferred to New York, where she met her husband. They moved to St. Louis, and had 3 daughters.
Anne’s corporate communications career prospered. She wrote books about parenting. It was not the type of life she’d envisioned for herself.
Yet the pull of Africa remained strong. In 2007 — around the time she and her husband moved to Darien — she traveled to Tanzania. A priest said his people needed a light shone on their plight.
“I was desperate to serve the people,” she says. “But I didn’t know how. I’m not Angelina Jolie.”
Anne found a way.
Or rather, several ways.
She started and now directs the Unite the World with Africa Foundation. The organization promotes peace and prosperity through health, education and micro-finance programs.
To help create jobs for tribal women and artisans across East Africa — and raise funds for the foundation — she created the Ashé Collection International Marketplace. It buys and sells Maasai jewelry, hand-crafted Indian Dhow sail bags, hand-beaded belts and sandals, home goods and more. “Their creations are phenomenal,” Anne says.
Next Tuesday (April 12, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.), Goldenberry in New Canaan hosts a trunk show of Ashé collection pieces. It’s a fundraiser for the foundation.
“How we spend our money as consumers matters,” Anne says. “If we spend thoughtfully, we can change the world.”
Billions of dollars have been poured into Africa. But, Anne notes, per capita income there is less today than in the 1970s. “It’s a tough place to do business,” she admits.
She and her foundation are not giving up. They’ve built the Heaven School, and work with an orphanage affiliated with it.
Over Christmas, Anne, her husband and oldest daughter will head to Kilimanjaro. It’s the highest mountain in Africa.
Of course, Anne Wells is no stranger to the continent’s beauty.
Or its challenges.