For her thesis in Communication, Technology and Policy, Rebecca looked at adaptation to climate change in Mali, with a focus on the local institutions on which people rely.
“My thesis was part of a bigger research commissioned by Oxfam, taking place in both Mali and Ethiopia. I chose this research partially because I have had a fascination with the music and culture of Mali for a long time. Also, I was interested to do research that would serve to influence NGO work in practice. One of my main interests was the social institutions they use to deal with stresses caused by climatic change, as Oxfam wanted to know how it can embed its activities in existing social institutions on a village level.
Living in Mali
My research focused on the shea fruit which grows in a tree in Africa. I spent three months living with a family in a little village in Mali. I did participatory observation studies. I experienced from up close what rainfall means to these villagers; as the ground was getting dustier, people got more and more desperate. Because of climate change, rainy seasons have become shorter and less predictable, causing regular shortage of food.
I researched how villagers deal with this situation. I wanted to know how long they go without food and what they do to cover that period. You can think about many ideas when writing your proposal, but in the field you just need to be flexible and adapt your expectations and plans. I really got an understanding of what rainfall means to these people. Once I had finished my thesis, Oxfam commissioned me to rewrite my findings in an official report on my findings, for which I was also paid. I am happy that my research is actually being used.”