Dave served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Benin from 1992-1994. He was posted in Boukombé in the mountainous and beautiful Atacora province in the country’s northwest; named for the mountain range that is its most prominent feature. In 1995, he contracted to train incoming Environmental Action Volunteers and then served as an interim Associate Director. As a Volunteer, he worked collaboratively with villagers, youth and women’s groups, other development organizations and Beninese government agencies to design and implement grassroots, participatory community projects, including agro-forestry, dry season gardening, Permaculture and appropriate technology. His acquisition of the local language, Ditammari, greatly facilitated his work and helped forge enduring friendships. He is a twice certified Permaculture Designer. His graduate studies focused on sustainable development and Africa, earning him an M.A. in Environment and Community from Antioch University Seattle in 2007. A subsequent visit to Benin, specifically to Boukombé, solidified his commitment and capacity to co-create with local participants a novel and community driven strategy for economic and social empowerment. This is Atacora Essential!
Melissa and Dave have been friends for almost 10 years. In 2012, Melissa joined Atacora as the director of sales and quickly became deeply committed to Atacora's Fair Partnership mission and the African communities they work with. She loves building relationships with customers and being available for the US end of operations while Dave is in Africa.
Melissa is also a committed mother, loving wife, and great friend. She has two kids, Alijah and Lunabelle, and loves gardening and romping through the woods with them, on her time off.
Jacob and our President Dave have been friends and collaborators since 1992. His family has been ardent supporters of Peace Corps Volunteers in the Boukombé area for even longer. He is the director of a Primary school in a remote village at the foot of the Atacora mountains, as well as a proud husband and father.
Dave collaborated closely with Jacob and our Field Director, Antoine to conceive, design and implement this innovative venture called Atacora Essential for the greatest and most sustainable progressive impact for the people of the region.
Jacob has a tremendous facility with interpersonal relations throughout the entire spectrum of people we interact with in Bénin: From farmers’ groups in remote villages all the way to the highest levels of the national government. He is an innovative thinker who can design effective strategies, and manage projects with keen organization. He is the “Essential” in Atacora Essential!
Antoine collaborated very closely with our President during his Peace Corps service almost 20 years ago, circulating dozens of remote villages to implement agro-forestry and other sustainable community development projects. He lives in Kunagningu, one of our principle supplier villages, and our President’s personal favorite, and has 5 boys!
Aside from serving Atacora Essential, Antoine is a Bureau Secretary in the Mayor’s office in Boukombé. He is a well respected traditional Village Councilor whose word carries much influence in the area. He has been instrumental in garnering support for Atacora Essential’s mission and strategies in all of the villages in which we operate. Above all, Antoine’s strong ethics and honesty provided confidence for establishing this novel venture. His is the final word for on the ground decision making. Couldn’t do it without him!
Fouti Isabelle is a welcome recent addition to the Atacora team. Bella is educated to the Baccalauriat level, and has several years of experience as Secretary-Accountant for an NGO. That job came to an end, and Bella has been teaching computer science at the local high school part time. She is super organized, and shows great leadership skills, whether it is organizing the crew for baobab collection missions, teaching Vero more in-depth computer and office skills or animating the Co-op ladies to increase production and create a happy work environment. She is top notch! Her spontaneous traditional singing and dancing make everyone smile, and her hard-core bossy nature really gets things moving!
Veronique Natta was hired a couple of years ago for a variety of duties. She is the Gal Friday of African operations. Her will and hard work have enabled her to positively respond to training and experience, and increase her capacity. She has learned Excel, and does alot of filing and data entry. When we need a document, she knows where it is. She does a fantastic job supervising the Co-op ladies and contributing to village trainings as well.
If there were a thousand people in West Africa with Abel’s skill set, poverty and inequality would be short lived! Abel is of the Beninese Nago ethnic group, but resides in Sokodé, Togo, a few hours from Boukombé. He became acquainted with our President through their mutual association with Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care , WA and their Togolese affiliate, Agbanga Karité, who specialize in Fair Trade Shea Butter. Abel came to Seattle and participated in a 12-week fellowship program through iLEAP, a local non-profit which brings global social change leaders together to forge alliances and apply leadership skills to social innovation.
Abel continues to work with Alaffia as well as Atacora Essential and Welders without Borders to design and implement strategies for rural economic development and Fair Trade. He also has his own farm and construction company! Busy man!
We consider Abel’s advice to be golden. He has been instrumental in creating, training and managing our Co-op and leadership staff, as well as helping with technology, logistics and accounting issues. He is well versed in the protocol for exports from West Africa, and has a network of reliable resource people to get any and all jobs done. Indispensible!