Ellen’s Grand Opening

“I was blown away by this shop on the Ellen Campus where Rwandan women sell their incredible, completely handmade goods. They’re so beautiful.”

Ellen DeGeneres

THE VISION: The wellbeing and promotion of gorillas… and artisans!

In the mountains of northern Rwanda, families of mountain gorillas are being protected and their wellbeing promoted through the work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

The passion of American celebrity Ellen DeGeneres for the protection of endangered animals has led to the building of a beautiful new campus for the Fossey Fund. The Ellen Campus will serve as a place to advance awareness, research, and continued protection of the mountain gorillas. Ellen’s vision also included the promotion of local artisans, which is where Azizi Life comes in!

Azizi Life was invited in 2021 to help realize Ellen’s vision for the campus by facilitating the gift shop, artisan demonstrations, and artisan experience days. This expansion of our work is a big step in our initiative to multiply artisan income.


At the beginning of June 2022, Ellen and her wife, Portia de Rossi, travelled to Rwanda for the grand opening of the Ellen Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. During the celebrations, Ellen and Portia not only met the Prime Minister and President of Rwanda, but they also met Azizi Life! Our CEO, Jeannine Umutoniwase, was there with other leaders and artisans to welcome Ellen and Portia to the Azizi Life gift shop and show them the crafting process.

Ellen and Portia also took the gorilla personality quiz and Jeannine gifted them with woven bowls inspired by “their” gorillas. (Take the quiz here!)

Azizi Life CEO, Jeannine Umutoniwase, and Regional Manager, Jean Pierre Mbarubukeye, gifted Ellen and Portia with custom woven bowls.


At the Azizi Life Gift Shop, Ellen was amazed by the beauty of the artisans’ work and moved by its impact.

Have you heard the Peace Baskets story of how artisan Pascasie forgave the murderers of her family? This is the story which inspired Ellen’s selection of her featured baskets. You can read about her Peace Baskets Cooperative here.

Ellen not only shopped Azizi Life, but she insisted that the artisans’ work was too beautiful and valuable to be sold at our posted prices. We were touched that she cared enough to follow up on the grand opening day to make sure that the prices had been raised to better reflect the high quality of the artisans’ craftsmanship.

Ellen and Portia in the Azizi Life Gift Shop at the Ellen Campus, with Regional Manager Jean Pierre, artisan partners, and CEO Jeannine

Some of our artisan partners had the opportunity to show Ellen and Portia their craft, and then they snapped a photo together.  Our leaders shared with us how much they appreciated Ellen’s friendliness, openness, and care for the people and animals she learned about.  And of course, we are thrilled that she is now a fan of Azizi Life!

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