Zoubida Anna Guelzim and Sam Carl's love story began where many modern relationships do: at the gym. They've been together since April 2018 and engaged since this past July. But what sets them apart from couples of today is their engagement story. Sam didn't propose with a shiny diamond ring or a family heirloom. Instead, he used his engagement ring fund to build a school in Ghana through Pencils of Promise. The sweetest part? Anna wouldn't have it any other way.
Anna's fascination with Pencils of Promise, a non-profit organization dedicated to building schools across the globe, began some time ago when she read The Promise of a Pencil. Written by Pencils of Promise founder Adam Braun, the book discusses how an ordinary person has the power to make extraordinary change. "For some reason, this message spoke so loudly to me," Anna tells Brides. "I said to myself, ‘Wait a second, I’m an ordinary person. I want to create positive change around me.’" She didn't know how or when the chance to make a difference would happen for her, but she always knew that when the opportunity presented itself she would be ready.
And no, before you ask, she never thought that her moment to make an impact would come through her engagement. But that's exactly what happened. About six months after they met, Sam and Anna began talking about their future and the possibility of an engagement, prompting Anna to suggest making a donation instead of purchasing a ring. Stunned, Sam recalls asking, "You’d want that instead of a ring?" to which Anna simply responded, "Yes."
"Immediately two things went through my head. One: Oh my god, I love this girl and I definitely want to marry her; and two: She can’t really be serious?" says Sam. So he brought the wild idea up again a few times to make sure Anna meant what she said and sure enough, she was stone-cold serious.
You don’t donate money to charity instead of getting an engagement ring for a girl without consultation.
Still, Anna's reassurance wasn't enough to get Sam completely on board just yet. "You don’t donate money to charity instead of getting an engagement ring for a girl without consultation," he laughs. The majority of his closest confidants even advised against the unconventional decision, which ultimately made Sam even more sure that making a donation instead of buying a diamond was the right route to go. "I believed her. I asked her. She doesn’t miss words, she speaks her mind."
Although Sam knew he was going to follow through on Anna's wish, Anna was in the dark on Sam's decision. "We both wanted to leave a little bit of mystery around the engagement," explains Anna. "We didn’t want it to be all kind of calculated and prepared and so I was like, 'Listen, I would be happy with this. I don’t know if this is something that's within your means but I want you to know that that would make me beyond happy if that was possible. And, if you for any reason decide that's not how you want to propose then I want to leave that up to you.'"
So they left it like that. The ball in Sam's court, with Anna not knowing when or how the proposal would go down. They would get engaged in the middle of the summer on their first romantic vacation to a nearby lake in Michigan. To Anna's surprise, Sam got down on one knee and in replace of a typical engagement ring was a piece of paper that read, "In honor of ZouZou, the love of my life, may this school give others the same hope and joy you have given me."
Now looking back I couldn’t imagine getting engaged any other way.
"I didn't know all the emotions I would feel being proposed to with a piece of paper," says Anna. "It was surreal and it felt really special to both of us. Now looking back I couldn’t imagine getting engaged any other way."
Since Anna is originally from Morocco, Sam chose to build the school in Ghana as an ode to her home continent. And a few months after their engagement, a broken school was renovated and operating through their donation to Pencils of Promise. The exterior of the wall also pays homage to their love story with a plaque emblazoned with the same words Sam used to propose.
And while the couple has a physical representation of their love for each other in Ghana, they still wanted something to show they're engaged during everyday life. Originally thinking they would buy something small and symbolic, Anna decided to look through her jewelry box to see if anything stuck out. Sure enough, she found a simple gold ring that once belonged to her grandmother—whom she was named after. Now she wears the sentimental piece proudly on her left finger and never thinks twice about not wearing a diamond.
The next big step in Sam and Anna's relationship will occur in April when they wed in Chicago. Following the nuptials, they'll jet off on a honeymoon that will hopefully bring them to the school's grounds, where they can see their donation's impact firsthand. "We talk about [visiting the school] all the time and we’ve been thinking about potentially making a visit during our honeymoon. I think that would be a really amazing experience," beams Anna.