Angel Mollel, a Maasai woman from Ormelili Village in Tanzania, is carving her dreams and breaking down gender inequality barriers for other youth Maasai women. By her father’s untraditional choice, young Angel attended a local primary school in Kilimanjaro Region that was taught in English. This opened the door to meeting Tony Matteroli; an international volunteer from Boulder Colorado who helped initiate the upward trajectory for Angel’s future in America.
In 2008, Angel lived with a different family than her own to avoid the daily long walk to school.
Her father had arranged for her and her sister to live with a Maasai family that was near the school in exchange for doing their chores as he envisioned an educated future for his daughters.
Angel grew up with 16 siblings, two moms and one dad. Her father married two wives and her biological mother birthed 7 children whereas her other mother gave birth to 9 children. She said her father was blessed with 11 girls and 5 boys but considers it ironic because girls were viewed as worthless and did not get the opportunity to attend school. Her father broke this cycle as
he decided to enroll most of his daughters in school to give them a chance in the modern world.
In 2010 when Angel was in third grade, Tony walked into Angel’s classroom as she was responding to a question of the teachers and
that moment in time forged a forever bond. Tony had become close with Angel and her family but did not travel to Tanzania with a goal of adopting a daughter. As his volunteer-ship concluded and he traveled back to the US, his heart remained with Angel and her family. Long distant discussions about a possible exchange education proceeded and Tony returned to Tanzania in 2012 to make a formal return trip to USA with Angel by his side.
When asked if getting an education in America was a dream of hers, Angel replied, “Every child in Tanzania dreams of coming to the United States of America. I just never thought that it was going to happen to me. Tony and I always joked about maybe me going to the States and he knew that it was something that I was interested in. But because I was still a child, Tony had to ask my father’s permission and the elders of the tribe. It was something that my family and I wanted; we just never knew that it was going to happen. Even though, most of the people in the village thought that I would never return, my father still agreed to me leaving because it gave the whole village hope.”
Angel arrived in the USA at the age of 12 and attended Belleview Christian middle school, a private school that accepted international students on visas. Her initial one-year visa expired, leaving her, Tony and her family faced with making critical decisions on how to extend her visa to achieve her desire to continue her education in America. Eventually Tony filed for adoption and during the process Angel received a green card and finally became a US citizen. She attended Brighton High School in Brighton Colorado and received recognition in the National Honors Society, played four sports (tennis, softball, volleyball, basketball) and earned an Outstanding Senior Graduate standing.
She said her biggest challenge in the transition of going from the lands of Tanzania to the cities and car filled roads of America was the language barrier.
“People including teachers and friends had a very hard time understanding what I was saying, and it got so bad I had to carry a piece of paper to write what I was thinking.” Other cultural nuances that required her to stretch her imagination, such as wearing denim jeans, challenged her emotionally as her traditional society considers such dress as shameful. In overcoming the tests of her new environment, she gives full credit to her adoptive father Tony, as he remained encouraging and supportive by her side through all the ups and downs.
In Feb of 2016, Angel traveled back to her home in Tanzania and was greeted with an overwhelming welcome as she conveyed, “Everyone in my village couldn’t believe that I actually came back. There were so many Maasai people at the airport because they could not believe that Angel who went to America four years ago was back home, they all came to the airport to witness my arrival. There were so many tears from everyone, me included. We celebrated for a week. Sadly, my adoptive father did not capture any of it with his camera, haha.”
Her education in America continues as she is currently a freshman at the University of Colorado, Boulder pursuing a degree in Media Production. She says she wants to achieve so many things, become a leader in her village and help Maasai women start small businesses with the resources they have. She intends to galvanize public support in taking a harder look at the problems her community faces such as lack of electricity, wells for access to water, and education.
When asked about her accomplishments, she replied “My biggest accomplishment to date is being able to start my own non-profit organization called 1Love. It is dedicated to helping the Maasai people of Northern Tanzania. We have been able to find sponsors for six children, build a shop, bring clean water to the village, and build two houses. Right now, we are working on getting electricity and buying gas cookers for the women.” Using her cross-cultural relationships, talents and tireless energy, Angel matches her education with ambition, for a unique mix of enthusiasm and ability that sees no bounds to opportunity.
While keeping her eye on the future, she is not naïve to the present.
She recognizes that she must be careful in not spreading herself too thin by thinking she can help everyone. Being a young woman herself, she knows that the biggest challenge for women in the Maasai lands is respect. “Even if a girl is the smartest or has accomplished much, the men will always think they are better, and the women are too scared to fight for their respect. It hurts because I see it every time I am there. The Maasai lands are dominated/ruled by men. There are not that many opportunities available for the women and if there were, the men (husbands) will not allow them to pursue those opportunities.”
When asked how her experience in the USA will help her motherland, she listed the following: 1) Help the village innovate electronically 2) Bring new hope to the Maasai women that we too can accomplish anything 3) Motivate young girls 4) Help educate more children through my non-profit. “My education and experiences will definitely help me address challenges in the Maasailand because I feel like I am a powerful woman, I can give speeches to motivate other women, and I can use my business skills to help the village innovate.”
When asked where she sees herself in five years, she replied “In five years, after college and trying to start a career, it will be the start of a new chapter. Hopefully, I will know my path by then.”
In celebration of International Women’s Day and Voice of Maasai’s initiatives to bring greater visibility to the story, needs and challenges faced by the Maasai, Angel mentions that her favorite song by Voice of Maasai is Nani Kama Mama ft. Remiti Choir.
“What I love about this song is that it’s about the love of Mother. There is no one I love in this world more than my mom. She is my rock, my inspiration, and my best friend. I am where I am because of her. There is truly no one like a mother.”
While researching and writing this story of Angel Mollel, I was inspired by her indomitable spirit and remarkable bravery. She is the modern-day example of the American dream, the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born, their economic class, race or ethnicity, can achieve their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone when given the opportunity. A story that is especially rousing and uplifting in the aftermath of the insurrection on our nation’s capital and the threat it posed to our democracy. This is healing, togetherness or in Maa, Tenebo Oiye.
Take a look inside a boma (Maasai home)
Support these initiatives by downloading our song Nani Kama Mama here
For more info, contact Jessey Jansen at email@example.com
Photos provided by Angle Mollel