Young Scientists

Veronica Okello: "I returned first of all to stay with my family"

Who are you?

My name is Veronica Okello. I am an analytical chemistry lecturer. I teach at Machakos University in Kenya.

Why did you want to become a scientist?

Basically I have two reasons. The first one is I come from a family where my elder siblings were scientists. My elder brothers, all of them are engineers. So that really motivated me to become a scientist. And also, back in my country, if you are a smart kid, chances are you will always take up sciences. And also my highschool teacher was a very good chemistry teacher and she motivated me to become a scientist.

Were there any obstacles that almost made you give up science?

Actually, there were quite a number of them. The first one was when I went to the US. The culture shock was just unbearable. And the programme that I was in was so intense: I had to teach undergraduate students, and at the same time do my course work, and in addition do research. Since I was just starting the programme, I felt that it was too much for me and I almost gave up. And also the fact that I had to operate the instruments by myself. In Kenya, we are used to technicians who operate instruments for us, because instruments are treated like black boxes. But when I went to the US, I had to figure out these instruments by myself, through reading manuals and also observing what the senior grad students were doing.

What were your motivations to return in Kenya?

The main thing that made me go back to Kenya was the fact that I had left my family, a very young family, back at home. And my husband was not willing to give me my babies to stay with me in the US, despite the fact that I had gotten an opportunity to work in a company in Houston, Texas. So I really had to go back home and stay with my family. Because I had stayed in the US for five years, without my family. So family is one of the things. But another thing that really made me want to go back was the fact that I wanted to mentor the students that I had left back home. When I was doing my bachelor, I realized that whenever we performed simple experiments in the lab, most of the time, lecturers, or the students themselves, could pour down the drain the chemicals, and I just wanted to change that. I believed that by employing some simple techniques I could create the necessary change, and also given that my area of research was on environmental remediation, I believed that that was exactly what I could do for my country. So I wanted to participate in solving the problems within our country because we understand our problems much much better.

Propos recueillis par Jean-Bruno Tagne


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