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Neema Mollel: The Girl who broke all Barriers of the Masai culture

When it was known that her mother was pregnant, a bracelet was delivered at their boma. This is a common practice in the Masai land which means if the child turns out to be a girl then that is taken as a proposed hand in marriage, but if the child is a boy then that is a symbol of requested friendship. A few months later a girl was born in a family of 3 children by then. The girl was named Neema and as the Masai culture had it her destiny was already decided and she was to be married when she is ready which usually was in her early teenage years.

Luckily the family lost interest in pursuing her which gave her a room to go to school. But luck wasn’t on her side as by the time she was in standard three one family expressed interest of making Neema the wife to their son. By then her parents had decided that she will go to school to at least finish her primary education before they will agree to any marriage proposal which was against the Masai culture.
The decision created a lot of mishaps in the community to the level of Neema’s family receiving threats from community members. Eventually Neema’s father gave in and agreed that her daughter will be married after all. But he gave only one condition to the family. Let Neema decide what she wants, Neema said she opts to finish her primary education first, the condition that the family accepted.
 
She was selected to join a government secondary school after passing her exams, her father had to go back to the family and begged them to let Neema pursue her secondary education. The rest is history!
 
Neema holds a degree in Economics and Finance now and works for Enduimet, one of the most successful Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in northern Tanzania where she is a member.
It was’nt a smooth journey for Neema as villagers back home could not understand why she insisted on studying, the highest level of education anyone had in her village back then was secondary school graduates. She became a point of verbal bullying and reference in her village, women pointing out to her and her family that she is becoming too old and she will not be able to neither get married nor get kids of her own.
 
After her studies and trying out some employment opportunities away from home she felt it was time to go back home and serve her community. She has no regrets whatsoever.
 
Talking about conservation then and now Neema says things have drastically changed. She remembers with ecstasy how as kids they used to play without having to worry of being attacked by predators and how they never heard any livestock being attacked as well. “Things have changed a lot, life here is no longer the same, our bomas and even where we keep our livestock never needed to be that strong fences but we never had attacks from wildlife and predators.  I think human and wildlife population increase and of course climate change could be the cause. Farming areas have become insufficient so people go beyond their farming areas  and on the other hand when predators fail to get food and water in the wild they move into the human settlements. It’s the matter of survival now. In just a few months back more than 200 cattle have been killed by lions. We are grateful that WWF and Tanzania Natural Resources Forum (TNRF) are coming in to support to deal with Human wildlife conflicts (HWC). Education on how to deal with HWC will indeed help our communities here. Fences, solar lights, chilly blocks, etc have been used in other areas facing the same challenges, we are hoping to adopt the same and improve lives here”.
 
On the positive side especially women involvement in decision making processes Neema says some changes are being witnessed now. “In the past women could not even sit in the meetings but today from the family level women can voice their thoughts on important issues. They are now part of the decision in meetings and can voice their thoughts on key issues. But we still have a long way to go. A Masai woman is still the caretaker of the family; taking care of farming and grazing the livestock all lies on the woman although the man is the one who decides how to spend the money! . Girls are also going to school, but very rarely you will find a girl from our village reaching the university. Majority of them get married at a very young age. Awareness is still needed. I use my free time to speak to the girls and their families on the need to educate their girl children and I am now seeing a promising future for the Masai girl child”. She says.
 
Neema has been an inspiration for the Masai girls and she says she is hoping for a better future for the girls in her community. She envisages a community where girls are not ridiculed and shunned because they want to go to school as she once was and a community that is not threated by predators that they have been living in harmony with for ages.
WWF Tanzania with partners TNRF with support from BMZ are working with Enduimet WMA members to see improvement in their climate resilience for effective management of natural resources and improved livelihoods and well-being of the community.
Neema Mollel