HISTORY of MERC
MERC, was founded in 1987 in Kenya by Meitamei Olol Dapash as a grassroots network of East African organizations represented by 150 Maasai community leaders. It was founded in the U.S. in 1994 as a sister organization to further the resourcing and other support of the Kenyan organization. Having operated out of Washington D.C. for many years, MERC US is currently located in Prescott Arizona through its partnership with Prescott College. In 2014, MERC retained its acronym but changed its name from the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition to Maasai Education, Research, and Conservation Institute, to reflect more than a decade of growing emphasis on accessing information and generating knowledge for the empowerment of the Maasai community.
During the past three decades of MERC’s existence it built a global network of support and emphasized projects such as these:
Restoration and Protection of Traditional Lands
Since 1987, MERC helped return one hundred and forty-five thousand acres of stolen grazing lands to 92 Maasai families, stopped a four hundred acre golf course near the Maasai Mara Game preserve and opposed large-scale commercial projects including dams, agriculture and mining.
Maasai Girs Education Fund
MERC established the Maasai Girls Education Fund in 2000 with Barbara Shaw.
Global Media Campaign
MERC has raised international awareness of the challenges facing Maasai people and the wildlife of East Africa. We have had articles published in the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Humane Society of US News (USA), CARE For the World International News (England), Daily Nation (Kenya), and SATYA (USA). We have also given interviews to the BBC, Voice of America, and NPR (National Public Radio) International.
First Pan-African Symposium on Non-Consumptive Wildlife Conservation
In 1997, MERC organized the first Pan-African Symposium of Non-Consumptive Approaches to Wildlife Conservation. The conference attracted representatives of Indigenous peoples, governmental agencies, conservation groups, and policy experts from twelve African nations. Together, they developed a common position document to guide international conservation and opposed commercial use of wildlife and other natural resources. The Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network (PAWCONET) was established to represent the collective interests of Africa’s environment and wildlife.
When the Kenya Wildlife Service proposed to legalize trophy hunting in Kenya in 1994, MERC launched a successful anti-hunting campaign to block the legislation.
Community-based Anti-poaching Program
In 1997, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) permitted ivory trade in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, resulting in renewed poaching of elephants in East Africa. MERC organized a grassroots-level anti-poaching program in which Maasai villages monitored and reported poaching activities to authorities.
Community Conservation Education Program
MERC founded wildlife clubs in 16 secondary schools in Maasailand, provided educational curriculum and materials, and sponsored field trips to wildlife preserves for hundreds of Maasai children, who typically do not have access to parks which are reserved for tourists, to prepare them for their roles as community stewards of wildlife.
Community-based Ecotourism Program
MERC developed a community-based ecotourism program in the vicinity of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with two local tour companies that operate bush walks and safari camps among Maasai communities. The program exists to demonstrate the potential to generate direct income from tourism through Maasai-controlled centers selling bead work and photographic rights, and creating appropriate cross-cultural encounters.
Representing Maasai Environmental & Cultural Interests at Global Forums
MERC was the first group to bring the values and concerns of the Maasai people to international conventions including the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, and World Bank Technical Consultations for the Review of Operational Directives on Indigenous People.
Suspension of an Environmentally Devastating Hydro Project
MERC worked successfully with the World Bank to suspend a project that would have flooded thousands of acres of Maasailand which were considered to be “unpopulated” according to Kenyan population data.
MERC researched and released a report that gained international attention and led to the termination of an illegal poaching operation in Loliondo, Tanzania, by exposing environmental and human rights abuses.
Maasai Education Fund
MERC established a scholarship fund for Maasai children and built a structure to ensure that the scholarships are managed by a board of Maasai community members.
Maasai AIDS education program
In 2006 MERC facilitated a pilot program in Amboseli to educate Maasai communities about the AIDS epidemic and procedures to remain healthy.
Community Water Projects
MERC has facilitated community owned water projects in Maasailand for two decades, most recently through collaboration with Rotary International which has funded four large scale projects in rural areas.
Erusiai Primary School
MERC undertook the rehabilitation of the Erusiai Primary School which in 2008 won the “Most Improved School” award in Narok District.
Lawsuit to protect the Mau Forest
MERC has participated in a variety of ways and contexts for over 30 years for the conservation of the Mau Forest, traditional Maasailand, and prevention of deforestation that threatens the entire Mara ecosystem.
Human/Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program
The Human/Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program in Amboseli is a partnership between MERC, Kenyan Wildlife Services, the Elephant Trust, the Olgulului-Olalarashi Group Ranch, formed to resolve conflicts between wildlife and communities around Amboseli National Park.
Ethical Conduct of Tourism Industry Project
MERC has partnered with tourism industry representatives, Kenyan government, International NGOs, and Maasai communities to build and implement ethical community based ecotourism that supports equitable distribution of resources generated by tourism and conservation of land and wildlife.
In 2007, researchers from Prescott College produced a report responding to Maasai community complaints about an NGO sponsored ‘safe house’ for Maasai girls in Narok.
MERC has established several beading cooperatives to collectivize the ability of Maasai women to achieve economic empowerment.
Maasai Field Guide Training Program
In the fall of 2007, Prescott College students taught a six month Field Guide training program to 10 Maasai students. The program was revised in 2016 and Prescott College now teaches a yearly training program at the Dopoi Center.
In 2008, the Dopoi Center was established on ten acres near Talek, on the edge of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, as a home for community activism and field studies. Today the Center houses the collaboration between MERC and Prescott College, includes spaces for community meetings and ceremonies, offers facilities for researchers and hosts tourism.
Mau Narok Land Rights
In 2010, Meitamei led 52 members of the Maasai community to file suit in Kenyan court for return of 30,000 acres of Mau Narok land.
Mara Guides Association
In 2016 after a two year effort, the Kenyan government recognized the first association of Maasai workers, which has become the core of community organizing in the broader Maasai Mara region. The MGA has prevented efforts to privatize management of the park since its forming.
Anti-Corruption in Elections
MERC supported the 2017 elections by hiring and training poll watchers to attempt to ensure that voting in Maasailand was not corrupted. More recently, Meitamei has led the development of a statement on historical injustice in Maasailand to support the national Building Bridges Initiative to end electoral corruption and build a more democratic Kenya.