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Maasai Guides Organize!

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8, July, 2016. Hundreds of local Maasai people, representatives of the tourism industry, elected officials, Prescott College students and representatives, visitors, and MGA members gathered in Sekenani to celebrate a great accomplishment of the Maasai community, the launch of the Mara Guides Association! The MGA is the first union ever of Maasai workers. Maasai field guides, traditionally discriminated against in the tourism industry that takes place on their land, have been working toward this moment for the past four years. The celebration reflected the final official registration of the association, and the commitment of 83 dues paying members!

Surely, all those who attended had a backstory to getting there. For MERC staff and friends, it was great difficulty finding vehicles to accommodate the size of our group, a flat tire while traveling through the reserve, and then hours spent trying to organize a brochure and the consequent printer problems. For some it may have been walking very far, turning down an important job for the day, securing permission to leave work, or any number of ordinary challenges faced by workers with little job security and privileges. So coming together for this gathering was monumental in itself!

The Launch was a testimony to the vision in Maasailand about the future of the Mara, a proud display of the MGA’s membership, recognition of the hard work of many, and an official endorsement of a few lodges and tour companies that are modelling collaboration. It was celebrated with song and dance.

Community leadership made powerful speeches about the rights of Maasai people who live around the Mara. They shared that it has been far too long that the local people have not benefited from the tourism that takes place on their land. The Mara Guides Association is an answer to this injustice, they said. MGA leadership was quick to emphasize that their association will not be co-opted by political parties, that they are a strong and independent body, formed with conservation and the rights of the Maasai community at their core.

The 83 members of the MGA were called to the stage, one by one, to collect their union cards, proudly take photos, and join their compatriots in celebration. Together they were a mass of red plaid and beads, undeniably proud of their culture and their strength together. A Maasai child could not look upon the MGA members without seeing hope for their own future and pride in their cultural heritage.  

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MGA members with their union cards posing for pictures and taking “selfies”

Prescott College and MERC announced the graduates of the Mara Guides Training Program and awarded them with certificates and badges.

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Field Guide Training Program Graduates with Prescott College T-shirts, badges, and Certificates

The MGA showed great displays of gratitude, robing the Prescott College crew with MGA shukas. The MGA made sure to recognize the outstanding business with fair practices and who supported the launch—Mara Sarova, Ilkeliani Camp, and Pollman Safaris Ltd. Mara Sarova donated many of the resources that made this day possible.

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Kate Cabot, Mara Guide training Program and Prescott College Instructor, wearing her MGA Shuka.

The spirit of the day is hard to capture with words, but many were moved by the power of this moment. It took great organization for all to come together and the field where we were gathered was lined with the cars of field guides, who have made great sacrifices to purchase cars and invest in hope for a different future together. The members of the MGA have a great task ahead of them: to continue to build their unity and power as an organization; to reform the tourism industry through the promotion of Maasai culture and the stewardship of land and wildlife; and to influence policy that protects the ecosystems of the Mara and supports the community's ability to stay on their lands. A tall order! But amidst the celebration of the launch, all seems possible!

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