Ariane Alzhara Kirtley
Founder and Executive Director
Ariane, joined by her husband, Denis and children, Fassely, Soriya and Indima, 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: Kirtley, the American born; Ariane, the daughter of a French mother; and Alzhara, “desert flower” in Arabic, signalling 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 indigenous populations in the Sahel.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Ariane travelled 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 new found Touareg and Fulani friends of the Azawak as family. Thanks to the tremendous encouragement of her family and friends, as well as the initial financial contribution of Reverend Janet Cornelius, Ariane founded Amman Imman:Water is Life for the children of the Azawak.
Associate Director and Program Director
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 stories about the people of the Azawak and her urgent plea to bring them water, Debbie’s life took a new direction. She began uniting Montessori schools after Ariane presented Amman Imman at a Montessori conference. She wrote blog posts that shared stories between the schools, conducted weekly conference calls to unite school leaders, organized collaborative fundraising campaigns such as A Walk for Water, and used social media to raise awareness. Debbie led the growth of the school movement from 10 schools in 2006 to over 50 schools in the Spring of 2009. In February 2009, Debbie traveled to the Azawak with the Amman Imman team, conducting a Friendship Exchange that connected over 200 children in America with their African brothers and sisters. Following that trip, Debbie made the decision to dedicate her life to uniting students as compassionate philanthropists. She began working as Amman Imman Associate Director and Wells of Love Program Director full-time. Over 150 schools have joined the Wells of Love movement.
Debbie contributes 17 years of educational and administrative experience to Amman Imman: Water is Life. A skilled educator and communicator through her former work as teacher and associate director, Debbie brings expertise in organization management, leadership development, program innovation and employee supervision. Debbie is also a writer, poet and techno-wiz. 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 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. Currently, she is studying French.
Niger Country Coordinator