Angel Olaran is Abba Melaku in Ethiopia

He is the ‘guardian angel’ of the orphans of Wukro. Angel Olaran is Abba Melaku in Ethiopia. That’s what they call him and means ‘angel father’. A lifetime of cooperation in Africa. From Tanzania to Ethiopia, where it has transformed the desert area of the Tigray into a habitable place. The mission he created in Wukro has become a reference. Angel Olaran helps Ethiopia with projects like help orphans and vulnerable people in Wukro. He has watched over thousands of people in need, vulnerable and helped them to live. He has earned the admiration and esteem of everyone. For this reason, we explain here who he is, his facts and his work. While from the CIS Angel Olaran we continue, along with other NGOs and associations, giving him support.

Who is Angel Olaran?

Angel Olaran Esnal (Hernani, Guipúzcoa, May 17, 1938), fifth of six children of a very Catholic family. Her older sister, Maria Rosa, became a nun following in the footsteps of a maternal aunt, ‘Carmelita Descalza’. And a great-great-grandmother who entered a convent of the ‘Agustinas’ with one of her daughters. He belongs to an ecclesiastical institution and serves the Catholic Order of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers). For more than 45 years, it has been pushing the wheel of Africa’s development.

Angel Olaran is Abba Melaku

He is a man of integrity who has chosen a hard world and who speaks slowly with just, simple words. But it is the engine of a great change in one of the poorest places in the world. You are aware that life is short, but changes and improvements take time. And after working on the African continent he has learned that you can’t get them against the clock.

He has a great vocation of giving in to the fatal attraction it has always felt in that part of the world. First it was in Tanzania for 20 years. He worked there since 1970, with the Wanyamwezi tribe, the Sons of the Moon. In 1991 he took a course in Islamology and was asked to go to Ethiopia. Where he has since tried to merge with the land to win the fight for the lives of the thousands of orphans he has helped.

Principles and objectives remain intact over time thanks to all their energy and commitment. Much of the success of Olaran’s initiatives is based not on mere charity but on organizing people to defend themselves. Let human feelings of equality, justice and fraternity arise.

Motivation to become a missionary

Remember that at the age of twenty he had “a personal experience of God. A matter of seconds or maybe minutes, I couldn’t say. But touching the untouchable was one of the strongest experiences of my life and it marked me”. Also, because “I suppose I had seen young people who were volunteering for missions. The first idea was to collaborate in some project for 2 or 3 years. Then I got in touch with a group of missionaries who worked exclusively in Africa and the idea of being a priest and for life matured. And I’m still there, I’ve been there for almost 45 years and I’ll stay there. He is very clear that “Africa has always inspired respect and admiration and has helped me to discover what I am”. Angel Olaran helps to Ethiopia.

Angel Olaran is the ‘guardian angel’

The work he does is that of a ‘guardian angel’. It is concerned that orphaned children, destitute young women, malnourished and destitute families, will have a dignified life against all impertinence. Unfortunately, fate such as hunger, drought, AIDS or tuberculosis often prevails. A fate that worsens as its position on the map descends into situations of extreme poverty. Give them a future to fight for and bring them closer to quality of life. Help them to “LIVE”.

Angel Olaran is Abba Melaku

The dream of ‘Abba Melaku’ (Father Angel) was to end hunger in Wukro and to devote his efforts to increasing food security, a general problem in Ethiopia. Very clear always in his statements: “The right to eat cannot be negotiated. The First World is crushing us”.

Going back to the beginning: Building the Saint Mary Mission and the School of Agruculture

He arrived in Mekelle, Tigray region, northern Ethiopia, in 1991 together with another White Father, José Luis Bandrés. There was only one tree on Wukro’s land and today across the street are the orchards of the School of Agriculture.

He arrived in Ethiopia in 1991 with a mandate to establish a secondary school. In that year a number of opposition guerrillas defeated the Stalinist military government and ended the war. After a few years, together with another white father, José Luis Bandrés, they built and launched the Mission Saint Mary. The Mission has become the soul of its work. At that time, there were only eight secondary schools in the Tigray region and at that time there was no social organization in Wukro.

External aid

They built the Mission and the School of Agriculture with money from the German NGO Misereor and ‘Manos Unidas’ on the outskirts of Wukro. It was built on an area of land of about 8 hectares of wasteland that the new government offered to the Catholic bishopric. The Stalinist-military regime nationalized all the soil of the country, and the current regime has kept it that way. On the ground there was only one tree and today the Mission is a set of rooms scattered among trees, walks, flowerbeds, shrubs, etc. And across the street are the orchards of the School of Agriculture.

Angel Olaran recalls that “when I arrived in 1991 at Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, at the airport there was a container, a table, a chair and weight, to weigh the luggage and a gentleman who took the luggage. There was nothing else. In Mekelle 25 years ago, there was no bus, no car. Because there was no asphalt, there was only one paved street, the main one. They didn’t have 4 kilometers of asphalt, very little”.

There was only one tree

He does not forget that “around 1985, the local population asked the bishop to open a secondary school. We started at the end of 1993 and in 1995 we gave the first classes. In the first grade, 15 per cent of girls attending class in secondary school were girls. And now there are high schools where women make up more than half. Where we have built the school is a place of 8 hectares in which there was only 1 tree”.

On the tree, she comments that “it was an acacia tree and the locals called it “the Derg thorn” making a parallel between the invasive properties of the acacia. It did not allow any other vegetation to sprout around it, destroying the field. And the Communist Derg regime that destroyed the few public services there were. Then there was weed, which even the goats didn’t eat. In Wukro there were 2 primary and 1 secondary schools”.

Children out of school

The Basque missionary explains that “the majority of children did not go to school, and in high school there were very few young people. There were children on every street corner. By all accounts, education was abandoned. Twenty-five years ago, there were supposed to be three universities throughout the country; now there are more than 35. In Wukro, the secondary school was the whole area, and there were hardly any primary schools in the villages. In 1991, the war ended, and they began to reorganize the country. They started almost from scratch. There was no bike, no bikes, no cars, and the government had no cars. The houses had no windows and their roofs were made of uralite. In Wukro we only had one car at school that we used as an ambulance and everything”.

From 2000 onwards, secondary scholl is charged to vocational school

“In the year 2000, we changed from high school to vocational education because with peace the government did not build more schools and the private began to build secondary schools. And this year 750 students attend, of which 350, attend in day classes and the rest at night. Little by little people with peace also began to organize. In education, the government began to train teachers because they created an education university and began to train them. There is now a well-established system. For example, in Wukro there are 3 secondary schools and 2 polytechnics, where 10 or 12 specialities are taught. There are also 6 primary schools (from 7 to 15 years) and kindergartens. I would say that the population of Wukro has 100% access to early childhood education. Education is firmly established in Wukro”.

The problems he encountered on his arrival came from so many fronts that the situation was dramatic

The Mission proved to be a vast and magnificent complex. But the problems came from many fronts: the nearly 30 years of war, the AIDS epidemic, which before the vaccine killed 13,000 Ethiopians a year, and the great famine of 1984, only 7 years earlier, had shattered the family fabric of society. Women with children, abandoned by soldiers or by husbands (emigrated to the capital, Sudan or Arabia in search of work and, in the process, forgetting the family). Children were also expelled from Eritrea because they were the children of an Ethiopian father or mother who arrived on foot across the mountains.

In addition, the high percentage of natural birth in the country (more than seven children per woman). Or simply general demoralization, which made it common for men to easily change the woman with children for a younger woman…

All this left as a consequence an immense number of children without a father or a father or mother, and, needless to say, malnourished and, often, sick. The worst thing about the desolating landscape of his arrival in Ethiopia was this “severe” malnutrition suffered by the population, especially children: “There were children who could not even hold their heads, refused food and had no strength to cry. The situation was dramatic”.

Soon, White Fathers found children with nowhere to go. The choice seemed clear: to build, in addition to the school and the Mission, an orphanage.

Angel will be the ‘guardian angel’ of the orphans of Wukro

Although the option of building an orphanage seemed clear, one fact changed everything. One fact changed the approach. It was when five fatherless brothers also lost their mother, a group of neighbors came to the Mission saying that, if financially possible, they would protect and care for them. The offer was repeated several times by neighbours of orphaned children. From here came the happy idea of supporting these neighbors financially so that they could take responsibility for those children. Much preferable solution to an orphanage. Some of these children started calling their protectors father>> and mother>> even after they had moved to another house; Others were actually adopted by families as their own children.

Angel Olaran es Abba Melaku -4

The big bet for this system was that the brothers remained united, forming a family, and that the older one (who could be 10 or 12 years old) acquired the responsibility to act as father or mother of the younger ones: manage the money, put order to their lives… It worked (and still works) beautifully, and it was a great joy. A group of women watch these families weekly.

They all form a “family of families” and Angel is the father-or, now, grandfather-of hundreds of children.

Everything changes with your arrival

Angel Olaran is Abba Melaku and he is the ‘guardian angel of the orphans of Wukro’, since since his arrival his daily struggle has been that “these orphaned children who have been in our hands have basic rights until they are old and can fend for themselves. We try to have the most basic covered such as food, health, education, clothing, roof… They are orphans because their parents have died of AIDS or have died in wars”.

He recalls that “we began to meet families who took care of children whose parents had died. They could look after them and take care of them if they were sick, but economically they had no money to support them. That’s how they started coming to us. Some have their grandmothers or aunts, but others have no one and live alone. Normally, 14-year-old boys are the oldest in the family, but they have the support of the neighborhood”. If they continued in their usual homes with the help of their neighbours, they would be more integrated into society. For this reason, they decided not to admit them to an orphanage. Thus, the idea of creating a revolutionary system of guardianship and protection of children arose.

Every evening, after dinner and after dark, Angel comes out with a lantern to visit some of the families of “his” orphans. It happens day in, day out, too.

Education is your main concern

He blindly believes in human quality and his main concern is education as a fundamental tool for providing opportunities for young people. Affectionate and rigorous at the same time, he aspires to create a new generation responsible both in their personal and family lives and in the workplace. “A good education is the best we can offer them”, he explains.

Angel Olaran es Abba Melaku -6

Education was fundamental and most children went to school, except for some who were prevented by family circumstances because they had to take care of younger siblings or had to work. This is not the case with Angel’s orphans. At the end of their compulsory primary or secondary classes (they go to school), instead of going to do homework at home they go to the Mission. They are orphans between 6 and 14 years old who <<without supervision>> and without anyone forcing them to do their homework. High school kids play big brothers. And on Fridays, Angel gathers them all and asks them to show them the notebooks and makes them tell how the notes of the week have gone.

Establishment of the Wukro Social Development Program

The number of families of orphaned children was growing rapidly, and it was already impossible for Angel to be attentive to all of them, which became more than two thousand, in addition to everything that involved rents, financial aid, care for newborns, to the sick, the elderly, etc., so the administration of the system passed to the Wukro Social Development Program, which takes care of orphans and gives them what they need. In addition, they also take care of helping as they can to other collectives also very needy and they do so in agreement with the city council (Werera).

The Wukro Social Development Program (WSDP) is also responsible for other activities. Perhaps the most significant is the remedial classes on Saturday mornings in the high school building, and it pays teachers to do the overhaul with all the orphans who are required to attend.

Clases de refuerzo Wukro

The Wukro Social Development Program (WSDP) operates mainly with the help of NGOs, most of which are for orphans.  

Father Angel Olaran was decisive and the architect of the solution of life in Wukro

The transformation of the area

He has transformed the desert area of the Tigray into a habitable, green place with water and social structures for one of the most severely affected populations. And what’s more, with a minimum budget, a school with great results.

The high school that white parents built and inaugurated had several branches: high school, agriculture, commerce. It soon became clear to them that what the Tigray urgently needed to prioritize, as a matter of life and death, was the <<resurrection>> of their agriculture.

The deforestation of tropical forests had caused droughts and the ensuing terrible famines. Wars and the need for firewood to boil unsafe water or to cook ended up leaving the landscape naked as a skeleton. Difficult to recover, because the summer rains take away the little land that remains between the rocks.

Reaping the fruits of his creation

The School of Agriculture is a university school with permanent collaboration with the local administration, open to the realities and needs of the two or three thousand peasants in the region. With workshops and dossiers, this helped them in the improvement of the tasks of the field (orchards, fields, fruit trees, livestock rearing and marketing). Over time it has become a benchmark in that Ethiopian region. The co-responsibility of the group is essential to guarantee the first necessities, since the link with the land and the knowledge of the agriculture are what ensures the survival.

Angel Olaran es Abba Melaku -8

The magnificent orchards have become an experimental model to imitate and are located across the street from the Mission. Therefore, the changes have also been environmental in the Tigray area. The social fabric was compacted and extended to create these innovative orchards, driven by reforestation measures, or, according to the Social Services, integrative actions have been carried out, such as the cooperative for AIDS patients that produces and sells honey.

Get, with a minimum budget, a school with great results

On the land ceded by the community in which the school was built, “it currently covers the areas of agriculture: plants and animals, computer science, accounting, general mechanics, electricity and plumbing. These branches are approved: The title is the official of the government. In non-accredited training, they only receive a certificate from the school: music, painting, sculpture, cutting and tailoring, embroidery, martial arts, circus. 750 students attend; 350 attends in day classes and the rest at night”.

Angel Olaran is proud that “having a minimum budget the results are great. Generally, our graduates are highly appreciated in their jobs. We get reports of their work engagement. Our school is frequently visited by peasants, rural schools, professionals, and politicians of the country. This past course was visited by the Minister of Environment and Reforestation, accompanied by representatives of the ministry of all Ethiopian regions. We are visited by national and international university staff”.

Talking to property

Father Angel Olaran says that “according to a report presented on national television, we are one of the two national institutions dealing with the environment. At the beginning of the school, work in an area of 8 hectares there was only one rain-fed tree. Currently we have about 40 thousand plants. We have pioneered drip irrigation, composting, fruit trees, vegetables, irrigation ditches, garbage collection, solar wells and windmill. We collaborate in improving the lives of peasants, facilitating access to water for domestic use and irrigation; improving the quality of domestic animals; microcredit; better seed quality. We insist on organic farming”.

The missionary points out that “another achievement is our collaboration with the Administration and different official services. All our projects are designed and implemented in close collaboration with the departments of social welfare, agriculture, education, water, reforestation…”.

Government support for education

On the other hand, Father Angel Olaran helps Ethiopia and is proud that “now there are also many young people going to university and for students with good marks it is the government that takes care of education and stay, everything except travel. There are girls whose parents can’t pay for their trip, so we’ve been working on it for about 7 or 8 years with the Wukro Women’s Association”.

“The association knows well the whole situation of families and give money to young people, about 20, who this year will go to college and their parents cannot afford it. Social welfare also came with the same demand, there were about 10 people who couldn’t go, and we also helped them until they finished college. Ninety-five per cent of employees do not reach the age of 35, which is when all this began. They were not able to access university education before”.

Asking him about those things that would change in general if he could go back, he replied: “I don’t think it would change anything, since we have been giving answers to the situations that have been presented to us. Priority has been given to such situations. What I would have liked to have done was to focus more on motivations, attitudes, quality of service, closeness and attention to the poor”.

Is it the poverty?

Angel Olaran is one of those people who can boast of having a speech of their own. He always speaks clearly and understands everything: “To understand poverty it is necessary to touch it, to smell it, to embrace it. It is impossible to feel or understand what deep poverty means through television programmes, photos or newspaper articles”.

“They have no idea what extreme poverty means. It’s like a child’s life gets out of hand because you don’t have anything to feed him or that your children, instead of going to school, have to start from a very young age and pick up bread on the streets”.

He regretted that “humanitarian aid is only palliative for the sufferings of those who pay for the consequences of a world economy based on the most radical injustice”. And in an unequal distribution of wealth that makes the rich richer every day and the poor poorer still poorer. This general malnutrition is the consequence of an unjust, incomprehensible and absurd economic system“.

“Helping those who survive in misery also serves us because it makes us aware of injustice, allows us to pay part of our debt, share something with others and know them”.

“The poor are not the object of our charity, but the subjects of a freedom”.

Angel Olaran Pobreza

More reflections on poverty

And a more forceful lament, if possible: “…Faced with so many injustices and with the millions of people who die each year due to poverty, it is inevitable to ask if God has escaped his creation from the hands”.

When talking about possible solutions to poverty, he is resigned and says that “if poverty is not eliminated, it is because it is not in the interests of doing so. Hunger is a programmed genocide, tolerated. You have to call things by their names. And if words have become meaningless, a new language will have to be invented”.

Angel Olaran resigns himself and saddens him to explain what happened to him: “When we were preparing clothes that people have given us for the orphans, and it was clothing for the age of 10 or 12, when we chose clothes for these and when they were doing well we realized that in the neck part it was clothes for 2 years… There is a lot of passive hunger that seems that the child is fine, but when you look at his body you realize that he is not as he should be at the age of 10 and many times it is because the food is not adequate. This is sad”, says the Father.

It is not so much what is given of what is received

It takes 45 years of helping others: “I think it’s not so much helping others. It’s sharing, living with others. It’s a relationship where you feel relaxed because you’re not giving, they’re not coming to take advantage of you. The person who comes to you only when he looks at you and smiles already gives you so much that what you can offer does nothing but correspond to what they bring to you”. What you’re trying to do is make it warm. The people who come to you is because they have a need, but the beautiful thing is even when they come and don’t have it, they come to see how you are, how your day has been.

The Saint Mary Mission and cooperating volunteers in Wukro

Since its inception, the mission of Saint Mary has received visits from aid workers and travelers, who find there a place where their help has a direct impact on the community. “People who come and know the project create an affinity with this place. Then they ask themselves, what can we do? And what they do is they come together and create partnerships to help the project”, he says.

“When volunteers come to Wukro, they always ask how the children are. That means that they realize how beautiful there is what we have already lost here, which is nature, spontaneity, the beauty of children, the smile, they come running to hug you…”, he states.

Absolute recognition and love from all over the world

In all his activities, Angel Olaran not only acts as a promoter and organizer but as a father -or grandfather- and who loves and cares for his family, as he is considered by the population, who affectionately nicknamed him ‘Abba Melaku’ (Father Angel). “The street is my church and the houses of the people are my altars”, he proclaims.

Angel Olaran es Abba Melaku -7

Father Angel Olaran helped Ethiopia and was decorated on 5 July 2015 as Doctor Honoris Causa for the University of Mekelle. Credit for his career in the economic and rural development of the Tigray area in northern Ethiopia.

‘Abba Melaku’ (Father Angel)

Also, in Wukro it has had its recognition and the street where the Mission Saint Mary is located bears the name of Abba Melaku. It is also the name of the award Reconeixement Ànima Abba Melaku to reward a world figure. Some environmental and reforestation projects implemented by Angel in the Tigray have been awarded and are a reference in Ethiopia.

He knows the laurels, but he shuns boasting. He is uncomfortable with praise. The immense work he has done during these 25 years in Wukro has been so great that all the recognitions they can give him will remain small. But from his humility this does not take away his sleep but the ability to continue living many more years to continue his great humanitarian work, understood as a way to achieve social justice.

Past, present and future

The projects that have been carried out and those that are under way in Wukro are of different kinds, and they have been carried out with very different budgets. They have been made possible thanks to funds financed by European NGOs of different sizes and both religious and non. The success has been the real collaboration between the parties involved in the projects and the participation of the target populations. Making the project feel like one’s own and therefore sustainable. This has been vital in Wukro’s transformation.

Angel Olaran only seeks to overcome the hardships of those who suffer. He is an example of generosity that deserves all our attention and help. In the mission, he develops activities in education, health and assistance to those most in need. She has taken hundreds of girls out of prostitution, cared for thousands of orphans, cared for AIDS and tuberculosis sufferers. He has developed a micro-credit system for small businesses. It is also responsible for programmes to assist the elderly and seeks to find work for the unemployed.

Memories about Àngel Pujol

The missionary’s work captivated Àngel Pujol on his visit to Wukro at the end of 2005. Father Olaran explains about the ‘soul’ of the CIS Angel Olaran that “nothing happened to him unnoticed. He had a delicate way of looking at things, enjoying them and always improving them. He enjoyed any job well done. He could eat with the most influential people and cried if he saw a barefoot child. It was always very bad not being able to speak English. One of his goals was to eradicate hunger and lack of schooling for children. He was a very popular person”. They were almost 10 years building life expectancy together.

Angel Olaran-Angel Pujol

Currently, funds have been reduced so much that even the continuity of some projects is at risk. This is why he encourages continued donations, because “what is not given, never reaches the one who needs it the most”.

Whether contributions to Wukro arrive

Angel Olaran doesn’t understand why “we can ask ourselves if our help reaches its destination, but we never wonder what happens to these 2 or 3 euros that I give to my stomach, which is not good either. That doesn’t worry us. If instead of buying this wine, buying another wine, we add euros for my stomach, that doesn’t worry us. But if I give a euro in a social way: Will it come or not? that is when the questions begin, and I find this embarrassing. Ask yourself first what euros I put in my stomach if necessary. Afterwards, you will wonder if my euro, sometimes my half euro, will reach its destination. This is a secondary question, I would say”.

In order for Angel Olaran to continue maintaining the current humanitarian project, he needs to continue to count on external aid. But these are increasingly directed towards a model of self-survival learning so that they are less vital. The dream is to make sure that someday, if it can be not too far in time, they are not indispensable.

From the CIS Angel Olaran we support you in part thanks to the help of our partners.

Common concerns and objectives

The goal of CIS Angel Olaran is to do our utmost to help Father Olaran safeguard the most vulnerable in Wukro. This is thanks to institutional grants, contributions from partners or donors. Also, thanks to the funds raised by the foundation in the different activities that are carried out in support of the missionary.

“My personal concern is the need to get €40,000 per year for school maintenance. And another €130,000 for the maintenance of the 650 orphans, the elderly, and people affected by AIDS”.

After a life of cooperation in Africa, he does not intend to return and says that “my future is in Wukro”. Every day there are things to do or people who require my attention”.

Drought and water accessibility

Water has become a kind of obsession for Angel and it is not surprising, after living closely the harshness of the successive droughts suffered. We can recall his call for drought in Kelte Awelaelo.

Hydrological projects and those related to agriculture and biodiversity are always on the table so as not to lose a drop and achieve food security. This is not an easy task, because the problems are still there. “Much remains to be done in rural areas where families survive from the countryside. It should not be forgotten that more than 85 per cent of the Ethiopian population lived in rural areas. The aim is to ensure that these families have three harvests a year by storing rainwater in reservoirs and wells, building canals and intervening in torrents”.

Reflections on the world in which we live

Angel Olaran believes that the rich countries have entered a spiral of consumerism and superfluous needs. “First World society is a victim of its own development because it is leading to a brutal individualism. It is in our interest to live in ignorance. To live all at the pace of the First World, it would take three planets to produce all the necessary raw material”.

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On the contrary, he believes that “the people of Africa are used to not having, do not have so many material ambitions. They have strong family support, strong grass-roots community structures and a greater sense of solidarity”. It has been able to reach people, “I have been able to discover the human values of the people. The houses, for example, may be very humble and poor, but in reality, they are museums of dignity“.

Forceful in stating that “the crisis that here diminishes the work, there (Ethiopia) creates death, however it does not perceive more sadness”.

Thanks for reading about Angel Olaran

Thank you very much for your interest in knowing the facts of missionary Angel Olaran in northern Ethiopia. If you want to read more information you can read our book: What can we do?


If you would like to kindly help us in any of our projects or make a donation, please note that the Private Foundation Centre d’Initiatives Solidàries Ángel Olaran, is included among the entities benefiting from patronage according to the provisions Act 49/2002 of 23 December on the taxation of non-profit entities and tax incentives for patronage.

You can either donate straight through our web or use our bank account.

Our banking details are as follow:

CODE SWIFT: BSCHESMM     IBAN: ES8300491886742010703392

Our Foundation will issue an annual certificate with the annual total donation, which under the Charity Act. Ley -49/2002 you will be able to deduct a 30 % of the donation if you donated under a civil person, or 35 % deduction of the “Impuesto de Sociedades” in case of “Personas Jurídicas”. You will always be able to make the deduction, if you comply with the conditions.

Last but not least, we want to thank you for the time you shared with us reading this document, and we would like to assure you that we will continue as hard as we did until now, with all our strength and hope to continue fighting for a better world.

Thank you very much!