Ashley Milton, a 2006 Vanden High School graduate, was recently awarded a Fulbright Award to work on her Ph.D. dissertation, “Forest Resilience for Sustaining Livelihoods and Ecosystem Services.”
Starting this month, Milton, 24, will live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for nine months as she interviews local residents on deforestation of the area and how they handle intense logging of the area, concerning access to water.
“I’m overtly excited,” Milton said.
This will mark Milton’s second trip to the DRC. She visited the country last summer as a fellow with the Central African Regional Program for the Environment.
While as an undergrad at Florida A&M University, Milton watched Al Gore’s environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” for a class she was taking.
“Watching it made me interested in water and how the developing world deals with access to water,” she said. “Many scientists believe that the next war will be fought over water access.”
Milton said her thesis focuses on how national security issues and policy are made concerning climate change.
After completing her Ph.D., Milton hopes to become a foreign service officer with the United States Agency for International Development.
“If I’m accepted into USAID (as a diplomat), I would like to return to Africa or South America,” she said.
Milton has already visited Ghana, Gambia, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Senegal.
She recently returned from Senegal and had her own moment with water while staying with a host family.
“I contracted typhoid from the well water they used,” Milton said. “After that, I decided to make my own food.”
Unknown to Milton at the time, this simple act of preparing her own food made her an ambassador of American culture.
“My host family was surprised to see me cook, they just assumed that Americans get all their food from McDonald’s,” she said.
“I started to help out cooking the family meals and some (of the host family) wouldn’t try the food I cooked,” Milton said with a laugh.
Milton said that the title of “ambassador” is apt in America, because she has answered questions from friends and family about the African continent.
“Many have asked me to teach them the one African language,” Milton said. “There are thousands of languages, not just one.”
Ashley is fluent in the Wolof language, which is spoken in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania. She is also fluent in French, which is important since many west and central African countries recognize French as an official language.
“Next I want to learn Swahili,” Milton said.
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