Monthly Archives: February 2021

Hidden Oaks Nature Center Connection to African Chief

Alex and Lassine Doumbia.

Annandale residents Alex Doumbia, a naturalist at Hidden Oaks and member of the Park Authority’s Work Force Council, and his father, Lassine Doumbia, share a common passion for education, nature and the parks. Lassine has volunteered to lead the Ossian Hall Park Spotlight by Starlight summer concert series since 2007. Alex volunteered along with his dad and then in 2017 started volunteering at Hidden Oaks Nature Center. Within a year he joined the staff!

Last year Lassine, following his family’s noble lineage, was inducted as the chief of the Mali village of Koungodjah. The two-month planned family trip turned into a four-month solo trip for Lassine due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. This African farming community is about the size of Fairfax County, with 10,000 residents in sub-Saharan Mali. Lassine’s father and uncles had previously served as chief.

During his own father’s tenure in the 1980’s, Lassine arranged to have school rooms and a health center built in the village. Until that time, the village children had to bicycle to the nearest school, 16 miles distant. However, the school system still only provided education through the fifth grade. The desire for his children to have an easier experience getting a higher education was a prime motivator for Lassine to move his family to the United States. Students in the village can now attend school through seventh grade, and Lassine hopes to build a college and an adult education center. Lassine, who works at the US Department of Agriculture, uses FaceTime and Zoom technology to conduct his duties with his brother, who is serving as acting chief in the village.

Alex grew up in the Washington, DC area but has visited his ancestral village. He describes the role of chief as being like a father to the entire village. His father sits under a large tree and the villagers join him in the shade to seek his counsel. The chief finds a way to keep the village happy through active listening. He resolves conflicts through mediation and guides the future of the village. Getting a cell tower for the village was a big step to be able to connect the village to the world.

After attending grade school in Fairfax County’s public schools, Alex graduated with a degree in oceanography from Old Dominion University. He appreciates the benefit of having educational opportunities easily accessible. Lassine admires Alex’s dedication to teaching about the natural world and is proud of his son’s educational achievements. Lassine noted that his sons bring “honor to the family by being true to themselves.”

Both father and son have brought honor to their extended family. Lassine was presented with a 2013 Special Recognition Award for outstanding volunteer service at the Elly Doyle Park Service Awards and Alex received the 2020 Trailblazers’ Customer Service Award. He was also part of the Farmers’ Market team which won the Quality of Life Award. Both men continue to make lasting impacts on their village in Mali as well as their village here in Fairfax County.

Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.