Prescott College’s Field Station in Kenya (the Dopoi Center) is located on 10 acres in the southern Rift Valley, bordering the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and at the cradle of humankind. Students study at the Maasai Education, Research and Conservation Institute (MERC) in the rural homeland of the Maasai community.
Maasai people are on the frontlines of Indigenous activism in the 21st century, and the Dopoi Center houses joint efforts of Maasai activists and Prescott College students and faculty to promote cultural survival and environmental justice in Maasailand.The Center hosts students and researchers from Universities across the world and within Kenya to collaborate on Maasai Community Initiatives. Nestled in a rural landscape among Maasai villages, herds of cattle, and wildlife such as elephants, big cats, giraffes, and dozens of species of birds, students participate in village life and learn first-hand the meaning of cultural survival, sustainability, and the practice of academic activism in an international context.
The Center provides an opportunity for Prescott College students to produce meaningful research and that is accountable to local communities, and supports their participation in conservation, sustainable development, and indigenous struggles for justice. The Dopoi Center is an example of an international collaboration that exists to promote radical equality, to share resources and knowledge with the aim of co-creating solutions to complex global issues.
The MERC Dopoi Center mission is to promote the cultural survival of the Maasai community. Community based education, the conservation of East African wildlife, and collaborative research.
History of the MERC Dopoi Center
Prescott College first became involved with the Maasai community through the establishment of a Cultural and Regional field studies program beginning in 2004, which was designed by a cohort of Prescott College students and faculty, and representatives of the Maasai community. In 2007, funds were secured to purchase 10 acres of land on the edge of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, to provide a more permanent home for the program. The land is a diverse acacia forest, home to over 100 species of birds and mega fauna including elephants, giraffes and leopards.
Students of the field studies program focused their work on Maasai land rights beginning in 2008, and a movement was born of that work which today leads to the anticipated return of 30,000 acres of ancestral homeland. That success led to a wider recognition of the importance of research to Maasai activists, and to the fuller development of the Dopoi Center as a research institute. Today the MERC Dopoi Center has a classroom/office complex, faculty housing, kitchen and staff quarters, and a campground for students. The Center hosts community meetings, trainings, and researchers, and is a multilingual and multicultural resource for the Maasai and Prescott College communities.
Partnership with Maasai Community
The MERC Institute is known in East Africa for its leadership of a highly visible indigenous land rights movement, and for community directed development through schools, water projects, and collaborative research. Prescott College students responded to a community call for research in 2008 to underpin a land rights movement in Maasailand, an international parallel to the fight for land rights and cultural survival iof North American Indigenous communities, such as the recent movement at Standing Rock. Students continue to engage in projects that support this Maasai land rights movement as people have occupied land for over 8 years, seeking justice for colonial land thefts.
In 2015, Maasai Field Guides launched a labor association to promote their economic empowerment, supported by the work of Prescott college students and faculty who participated in a Maasai Field Guide Training Program. Students have also supported Maasai women’s activism through collaborating on water projects and beading cooperatives. Student research has collaborated with community members across disciplines: from ecological sustainability, conservation and management, traditional knowledge MERC is an unusual activist project: it is accountable to the Maasai community’s own chosen leadership, and has been engaged through its history in a conversation, initiated and led by Maasai people, about how to achieve just and equal collaboration between the global North and Indigenous Africa.
Learn more at www.maasaierc.org