xorla ocloo

Xorla Ocloo, 2019 Global Research Scholar

Research Project: Sustainable Nutrient Recapture in Agro-ecosystems: Assessing the Feasibility of Azolla spp. as a Biofertilizer, Biofeed, and Biocontrol agent for Vectors of Human Pathogens in Northern Senegal

Research Location: Senegal

Majors: Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution (GDBBS)

No words will ever come close to describing my experience in Senegal. This field experience allowed me to be the scientist I’ve always wanted to be. As someone who is of west African descent, it has always been my goal to connect ecology and west African culture, but I never knew how. In Senegal, I learned about the ecosystem while simultaneously learning about their culture, which evidently helped shaped the trajectory of my project. I heard stories about how the land changed and what that meant for the populations and learned about their innovative strategies that they used to combat diseases and failed crop seasons. At one point, I remembered talking to a little boy about his observations in the field. His observations were critical and information I could not have acquired solely from the literature.  I also learned that the true success of projects came from building relationships. This meant learning the local language. I made an effort each day to pick up new words so that I could communicate with people.  I embraced Teranga, being in good company and treating people with respect. We’d spend hours drinking Ataya tea, the symbolization of strong friendships, or eating Thiéboudienne, the national dish. All in all, this highlighted to me that it wasn’t just about the science, but creating long-term trust and sustainable friendships.

I even tried to build that in my neighborhood. I wasn’t just the American that came here to do research. I was part of the community. Every morning, I started my day saying hello to almost everyone on my way to work and I’d sometimes end my day watching the game with my neighbors at the restaurant near my house.  I had my own barber and hairdresser, and regular places I would go to purchase milk, chicken, and beef. I had a community that looked out for me. I was able get out of my comfort zone and navigate the entire city toute seule, and sometimes I would find myself walking through the classrooms of the University of Gaston-Berger. I even visited their farm and saw where they grew Azolla, the plant species that I am working with!

This experience solidified my passion for conducting social-ecological research. Most importantly, I received positive feedback from farmers that they were interested in my project and ready to start whenever. I left Senegal motivated, and I still am motivated to continue expanding my project and working with the community. À toute à l'heure, Senegal!