The wise women of the Atacora Fair Partnership™ Co-operative are the guardians of the indigenous knowledge of product transformation that Atacora wishes to help revalue and preserve. They are the custodians of the rural households we hope to help advance economically.
Our co-op compound is in the tiny village of Kouporgou. To build it, the ladies tirelessly hauled sand and water for the concrete, and pargeted the walls. They planted the thousands of Moringa trees and other useful plants we installed, even building the tree nurseries in the shade of big baobabs.
They process the whole Baobab Fruit to extract the pure fruit pulp with mortars and pestles. They hull and winnow the Baobab and Neem Seeds the way it has always been done. Did we forget to mention that they can throw a heck of a party! They make gorgeous traditional feasts, brew tchoukoutou (local sorghum beer) and love to sing, drum and dance!These ladies are our Mamas and Aunties; powerful and forthright, and a force to be reckoned with. When they speak, men listen, for they are the real producers. They do not hesitate to express grievances, and we hold a plenary session every payday so that we can adjust to accommodate them.
Colette has been with Atacora since the beginning, and has been elected President by the other women. As her health is a bit frail, she mostly supervises and organizes production, and is always the central voice at our monthly plenary meetings. There, she expresses equipment needs, speaks for the Co-op regarding scheduling and presents ideas for better efficiency. She has 6 kids, and still makes Tchouk for market days. We love Mama Colette, and her Tchouk is outstanding!
Mama N’touota is the first wife of one of our top Baobab fruit producers in the village of Koucointiégou.
As the eldest Co-op member, she garners a lot of respect and uses her influence to motivate the other ladies. She has nine kids, 4 of whom are still living. Before joining Atacora, she de-shelled baobab seeds and sold them at the Kouporgou market, once every four days during Baobab season, earning perhaps $1 - $1.50. The money she earns at Atacora helps her to pay to take her grain to the mill, and to have better access to health care services. In order to plant, hoe and harvest her fields, she must invite other local farmers to help, in the traditional Otammari way, and provide sorghum beer and a solid meal. She applies her earnings to prepare for these helpers, so her fields have good yields. She hopes that Atacora continues to grow and provide employment, as there are no other jobs available.
Madeleine is the wife of Antoine, Atacora’s President in Benin. She just had her 6th child, and her first girl. Before joining Atacora at its inception, Madeleine made Tchoukoutou (sorghum beer) and sold it once every four days at the Kouporgou market. Tchouk takes 3 days to prepare, and after paying for grain and firewood, transporting the heavy jars to the market, and spending all day selling, she might make about $2. She remarks a big change in her home economics as a result of her work with Atacora. She invites farm helpers, takes her grain to the mill rather than crushing it with stones, and keeps her boys in school. She hopes Atacora creates new products and thus more work for the ladies!
Five of her 10 kids have died due to lacking medical care. Atacora wants to address this sad fact of life in our region by providing good paying jobs to mothers like N’Koua. She is glad to report that her family’s health is greatly improved due to the income she earns at Atacora.
Awaou is of the Peuhl ethnicity, a semi-nomadic herding people, who are a small minority in the Atacora region. Before joining Atacora, she sold a millet/milk porridge in local markets, perhaps making $2 per market. Now, her kids are in school, with uniforms, lunch money and supplies, which is a rarity among the Peulh.
Before joining Atacora in 2009 as an original member, Colette sold Tchouk at the market for very slim benefit. With 6 kids, she is delighted with her employment, and is able to afford better nutrition, school fees and new clothes.
It is too bad that Otammari people seldom smile for pictures, because Josephine’s grin is electrifying. This is one strong woman, who is a tireless and productive worker. She is in charge of equipment and hygiene at the Co-op, and receives regular training. She likes working at Atacora because she can now help her husband pay for their 6 kids’ schooling and health care. She is still a brewer as well, and loves to sing and dance.
Elizabeth is a particularly remarkable Co-op member. We were noticing that the volume of work produced by the pairs of women each day was really lagging, so we engaged her separately just to see what she could do. WOW! She produced as much powder as 2 pairs of women in a single day! As an incentive, we bought her a sewing machine so she could pursue being a seamstress, and integrated her into the Co-op, where she leads by the example of her diligence and productivity. Although she is still in her early 20s, she is widely respected and admired. She claims that the machine was something she never even dared dream about!
Since Auntie Marcelline’s passing, Adrienne has grown into the role of Chief Motivator and Spiritual leader for the Co-op. The proceeds from her work serve to provide better access for her 7 kids to school, health care and nutrition. She says that her home life is much more at ease now that she has a solid income at Atacora, getting more helpers in her fields, and that her overall health has improved.
Alice is the second wife of Atacora’s Executive Director, Jacob, in Benin. She and her 3 daughters live near our “factory” in Kouporgou, where she also is a seamstress and a brewer. Ambitious is an understatement! When Atacora has visiting dignitaries as is often the case, she is always in charge of the warm hospitality we always offer.
We were deeply saddened by Marcelline’s passing in 2013. She was by far the most animated lady in the Co-op, leading the crew in drumming, song and dance at our periodic celebrations, and at the beginning of the work day. She had always brewed Tchouk to support her aging mother and her siblings, but had become sickly due to the smoke, so she was very glad to have joined Atacora at the beginning. Atacora did our best to save her from an acute illness by sending her to the best hospital in the area, but alas… We took care of all of her funeral arrangements, and continue to help her family. She said that if she could take the money she earned to buy back her youth, she would do so gladly in order to keep Atacora moving. We miss her so much.