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ARIANE ALZHARA KIRTLEY, Founder and Executive Director

Ariane, joined by her husband, Denis and son, Fassely, as well as other fabulously committed family and friends, has devoted her life to improving the living conditions of the Azawak Valley of Niger. She founded Amman Imman: Water is Life in February 2006 to bring life giving water to her brothers and sisters in the Azawak.

Ariane's name mirrors her roots, planted firmly on three continents: Kirtleythe American born, Ariane the daughter of a French mother and Alzhara, "desert flower" in Arabic, signaling that she blossomed in Africa, the continent she loves above all others. Ariane crossed the Sahara Desert for the first time when she was six months old -- in a basket tied to the back seat of her family's Land-Cruiser. From those earliest months until she turned ten, her home was in North and West Africa, including the country of Niger.

A 2001 graduate of Yale University, in 2004 she also earned her Masters in Public Health from Yale. In summer of 2003, she returned to Niger to intern for CARE International on a public health initiative which culminated in her Master's thesis on the subject for Yale. In May of 2004 Ariane was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to return to Niger in order to research the special health needs of women and minority ethnic populations in the Sahel.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Ariane traveled to the pastoral region of the Azawak, Niger's most remote and unknown region. In the Azawak, Ariane discovered the human face of climate change: people literally dying of thirst because of their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. These were the most generous and dignified, as well as the most vulnerable populations of her travels throughout West Africa. She had never before witnessed an area with so few resources and infrastructure, where individuals live on the brink of disaster on a daily basis due to circumstances beyond their control. Most importantly, she had never seen half a million people in such distress receiving so little assistance from the rest of the world.

She rapidly grew to love and consider her newfound friends of the Azawak as family. Thanks to the tremendous encouragement of her relatives, particularly her husband and her father, as well as the initial financial contribution of Reverend Janet Cornelius, Ariane founded Amman Imman:Water is Life for the children of the Azawak.
DENIS GONTERO, Niger Program Director
Denis is the life and spirit of Amman Imman in Niger. His passion and complete dedication to his work has led to the successful creation of the Tangarwashane borehole as well as its sustained management. Thanks to Denis’ untiring efforts, the Tangarwashane borehole has become a life giving oasis not only with permanent and sustainable water, but also schools for children and adults, reforestation programs, food initiatives, and revenue generating activities.

French born, Denis traveled to Africa in 1995. Upon this visit, he fell in love with West Africa, and particularly the continent’s music traditions. He has since lived in Senegal, Guinea, Mali, and Niger, becoming proficient in African percussion, training with such well known musicians as Keletigui and Fassery Diabate. In September 2007, he joined Heiwa Daiko -- the first Japanese percussion troupe in France -- and played in renowned concert halls including La Cigale in Paris. Denis has also worked in construction and masonry for the past ten years, earning a CAP certificate in masonry in July of 2006.

Amman Imman was founded in February 2006, greatly thanks to Denis' support. Witnessing Ariane's distress upon hearing that other development organizations would not provide aid, Denis encouraged his wife to bring permanent and sustainable sources of water to the Azawak. In November 2006, Denis united with his wife for the Azawak as Amman Imman’s Construction Supervisor in Niger. He did everything from negotiating contracts, hiring contractors, overseeing the construction, to setting up the management committee for the Tangarwashane borehole. He has since set aside his music career to work full-time to ensure Amman Imman’s success as Niger Program Director. His responsibilities include hiring and managing the Niger Amman Imman team, negotiating contracts and supervising construction, and establishing partnerships with the government and development organizations to bring in other forms of direly needed assistance to the Azawak.

Today, Denis is Amman Imman’s international team member who spends the most time in the harshest of conditions, without running water or electricity, living with our friends as they do in the Azawak, to help them not only have water but an overall improved quality of life.
DEBRA KAHN, Associate Director, Wells of Love Program Director
Debra Kahn
Debra Kahn founded Wells of Love, the service-learning component of Amman Imman, upon meeting Ariane Kirtley in October, 2006. Deeply moved by Ariane’s plea to save the lives of the people of the Azawak by bringing them water, Debbie’s own life took a new direction. She began uniting Montessori schools after Ariane presented Amman Imman at a Montessori conference where many schools made commitments to be part of the project. Writing blog posts that shared stories between the schools, conducting weekly conferences calls, organizing collaborative fundraising campaigns such as A Walk for Water, and using social networking tools such as YouTube and Facebook, Debbie led the growth of the school’s movement from 10 schools in 2006 to over 50 schools in the Spring of 2009. Debbie traveled to the Azawak with the Amman Imman team in February 2009, conducting a “Friendship Exchange” that connected over 200 children in America with their African brothers and sisters. It was then that Debbie made the decision to follow her passion to provide an opportunity for students to bring real change to the world as compassionate philanthropists. She left her position as associate director of the Oneness-Family School and began working as Amman Imman Associate Director and Wells of Love Program Director full-time.

Debbie contributes 17 years of educational and administrative experience to Amman Imman: Water is Life and the Wells of Love program. A skilled educator and communicator through her former work as teacher and associate director, Debbie brings expertise in organizational management, systems thinking, leadership skills and employee supervision. Debbie is also a writer, poet and big picture thinker. Through the Wells of Love program, Debbie embraces possibility and implements practical action, providing a venue for students around the world to engage in grassroots activism that changes lives.

Debbie enjoys following her passion and initiating change. She received her Montessori teaching certification in 1992, after working as a computer programmer in the biotech and banking industries for 14 years. In 2007, she earned her B.A. in Education from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.

MICHAEL KIRTLEY, Honorary President

Michael Kirtley
Hailing from Bardstown, Kentucky, Michael has spent much of his adult life in North and West Africa. Thrice selected to the Who's Who of International Photojournalists, he has written and photographed feature stories for such publications as National Geographic, Newsweek, Time, Life, Stern, Geo, and Paris-Match. An Africa and Arab World specialist, he has interviewed numerous heads of state, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, the late King Hussein of Jordan, and Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. He holds a degree in Psychology from Amherst College, Amherst, MA. In the aftermath of 9/11/01, Michael founded The Friendship Caravan to nurture understanding among people of diverse cultures, and to provide humanitarian assistance to the world's most vulnerable populations. In 2009 he initiated a nationwide campaign in Morocco that led to the declaration of a National Charter for Environmental Protection and the first national celebration of Earth Day in an African nation. In February 2006, Michael helped his daughter, Ariane Kirtley, create Amman Imman as the humanitarian program of the Friendship Caravan. As president of the Friendship Caravan, Michael oversaw Amman Imman operations, and was particularly integral to fundraising and outreach activities. In recognition of this, Michael has been named Honorary President of Amman Imman: Water is Life.

LAUREL LUNDSTROM, Communications Coordinator 

Laurel Lundstrom is the Communications Coordinator for Amman Imman. She has more than five years experience as a writer and editor for NGOs, trade associations and the United Nations, and currently works for Pathfinder International, a reproductive health and family planning organization, on one of their USAID initiatives. Ms. Lundstrom traveled with Amman Imman's director to Niger earlier this year, and helped to conduct a needs assessment of the local population. With a background in journalism, she also writes articles about climate change and the energy industry for several publications. In her position as Communications Coordinator, Laurel is able to apply her writing, editing and design experience to support the project's communications needs. Laurel holds a Masters in Journalism from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor's Degree in Government Studies from Cornell University.

DENNIE KIRTLEY, Webmaster, Jazz Musician, Photographer

Dennie designs web sites and serves as digitial magician for Amman Imman.

He is also artist with two very different specialties : jazz trumpeter and photographer . After formal university training in classical trumpet and much professional playing, Dennie disovered photography. In many ways music and photography are extraordinarimy complimentary to each other. The forms and proportion and rythms of music echo the shapes and dimensions in a photographic composition.

No small wonder that Dennie formed Showtech, Inc., a multimedia company specializing in large scale diaporama slide presentation extravaganzas. There he specialized in early experimental computer work and sometimes used as many as thirty projectors which blink on and off in perfect synchrony with grand soundtracks, staged in huge auditoriums filled with speakers as big as small cars and with screens 15 meters wide. His work was with major American societes, with a client list that included General Electric, Brown Forman Distillers, British American Tobacco and FireKing International. Because of the commercial aspects of the work, he was able to work with the top journalistic and commercial photographers in USA. He developed an aesthetic appreciation for the lush image, projected bigger than life, and photographed by the finest. These photographic geniuses became his teachers.

Eventually, large scale diaporamas were replaced by the lowly powerpoint presentation. Dennie then went travelling and fell in love with Africa. There, his dream came true:  he discovered African music, the roots of world jazz plus he could photograph light and color and culture in a place unique and inviting. He came back to the USA determined to make Morocco his home and in 2005 travelled to Marrakech to begin photographing. In 2006 he formed Kirtley Photographie, a photographic corporation, and he began accepting commercial publication assignments which have included architecture, people, portraiture, landscape, nature and journalistic work. Currently his work graces the cover of Couleurs Maroc and he now works primarily in Casablanca.

UPEN SINGH, Volunteer Manager & Operations Coordinator

Upen Singh
Upen started as a volunteer in 2008, and now manages our Volunteer base, and helps the Associate Director in operational tasks. A native from Nepal, he enjoys learning and adventure. His interests lie pretty much everywhere - humanism, arts, science & technology, travels, plants & animals, food, comedy, health...Life is too short to not enjoy it all! Professionally, Upen is also a research analyst, and a dancer (ballroom, latin, modern, ballet). He received his M.A. in Economics from West Virginia University, and has worked with non-profit organizations like the Gates Millennium Scholars Program (funding higher education for minorities), Capital City Public Charter School (teaching Math & Science), and Maine LightHouse Corp (helping Women in Substance Abuse). He has also worked as a Journalist for The Kathmandu Post in Nepal. He enjoys playing the guitar, computer programming, traveling, connecting with people, and exploring. His ‘bucket list’ also includes sky-diving and visiting the Azawak.

JAMIE K. FERRUGIARO, Marketing Coordinator

Jamie first learned about and joined the Amman Imman team using Volunteer Match in 2012. Deeply interested in working towards helping others in her life, she gradually became a passionate believer in the work AI does, as well as the people behind the scenes making it all possible. She has managed the marketing for a number of AI's events, including the annual A Walk for Water. She is currently finishing an Associate's in Business Administration, which she will follow up with a B.A. in Marketing. In her spare time, she reads endless books (she recommends Contagious by Jonah Berger, and How To Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie), as well as articles and blogs. In her (spare) spare time, she loves drawing, fitness, and living a healthy lifestyle. @_jamiek

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