My friend Anne Wells is the Founder and Executive Director of Unite the World with Africa and The Ashe Collection. She is also a writer for Africa.com. On one of our recent Starbucks-fueled power walks, I set out to discover how this
40 year-old mother of three is transforming lives in East Africa—one
connection at a time.
What are the most significant socio-economic challenges facing Tanzania
today? Of course there are many challenges and the situation is complex. Key issues include the lack of access to adequate nutrition, education, potable water,
sanitation, health care and jobs. Another widespread problem is the low social status of girls and women who are often considered possessions of their husbands and/or fathers and spend their days collecting firewood, hauling water, building and repairing homes, birthing and raising the children (of which there are many because birth control is almost completely unavailable), cooking, cleaning, farming. Teenage pregnancy is rampant, and abuse is sadly quite common.
What shocks you the most about the living conditions there? Extreme poverty and its associated suffering--hungry children sleeping on dirt floors, clothed in rags, uneducated women and children hauling impossible loads, etc… is heartbreaking. However, the psychological suffering, specifically that of the women and girls who are underfed, undereducated, and abused perhaps “shocks” me the most. In the case of the Maasai tribe—a semi nomadic pastoralist, polygamous people with whom Unite works—women truly have no rights and are often valued less than a goat. A man can “give” any of his wives to any visiting morani (warriors). Also, many girls are promised to marry Maasai
elders while still in their mothers' wombs. They have no voice, no say in the
course of their lives. This is why Unite focuses on the empowerment of women and girls. The many non-profit partners with whom we work teach families and communities that educating girls, rather than marrying them off at 14, 15 or younger, will pay off more for them in the long run. The Girl Effect is a great educator of this, (www.girleffect.org).
What is Unite’s role? Unite is a portal of service through which Americans can become part of the solution, specifically in the advancement of women’s health, education and microfinance programs to help combat extreme poverty. While this sounds lofty, I know, we do have tangible ways in which we help.
First, we have Unite Tours through which we send Americans to East Africa on traditional wildlife safaris that are combined with field visits to Unite’s partners,
empowering clients to share of their time and talents in meaningful ways,
versus just sharing of their treasure.
Second, we have The Ashe Collection, an online store of African artistry. 100% of profits support Unite’s work with our partners in the field. While everyone cannot
travel to Tanzania to work directly in the villages, they can shop wisely. By
purchasing our elegant and unique jewelry, bags, sandals, belts and more,
buyers directly support important education, income-generating and health
programs for those marginalized communities living at greatest risk.
Third, we have our youth groups, Global Girls and Global Guys UNITE (GGU), through which we empower our young people here in America to embrace their roles as global change agents. The program includes education, connection with their peers in Africa, and fundraising campaigns that are designed and led by the students themselves.
Who are some of Unite’s partners? Unite is now partnered with more than 20 non-profit organizations across Tanzania, and in January we will expand into Rwanda. These groups include primary and secondary schools, orphanages, women’s microfinance programs, income-generation programs for the
Maasai and Tanzanians living with disabilities as well as health clinics and
hospitals. We have a personal relationship with each of these groups and have
experienced first-hand the great impact they are having on their local
What are you planning for the Summer 2013 trip? Next summer is our big parent-student service tour. I am really excited about our extraordinary itinerary. We will work with many of our partners throughout Moshi, Arusha and Karatu, and we will visit with the Maasai and the Hadzabe tribespeople. The Hadzabe are one of the last hunter-gatherer people on the planet, so it is a very rare opportunity. And, of course, we will safari in a few of the great national parks, including the 8th wonder of the world: The Ngorongoro Crater.
Sounds amazing! Yes! And this upcoming school year, we will prepare by communicating with the African students, educating our traveling team about Tanzania and the partners with whom we will work, and of course, fundraising to help meet their local needs. Some of our fundraising targets include raising money to purchase livestock (cows, goats, chickens—one egg-laying chicken is just $5!), bed nets, mattresses, bee hives (for honey-making programs), school supplies, food, and much more.
How can my readers and I experience Africa and support Unite’s
efforts? Come with me! Or travel over on a Unite Tour safari! If you cannot go to Africa, we have many things that can be done here:
* Help us start a youth group (GGU) at your local
* Introduce Unite to your church, club, hospital, library, or business. We are a bridge through which everyone can be of service.
* Shop the Ashé Collection online, or host an
Ashé party at your home.
* Intern with Unite. Everyone is welcome!
* Make a donation. The needs are endless and
there are never enough funds.
Author’s note: Kristen Harnisch and her daughter, Ellen, were co-founders (with Anne and her daughter) of the original Global Girls Unite youth group.