As part of the Atacora Fair Partnership umbrella, we have a longstanding collaboration with Peace Corps’ Benin office. With each Volunteer cycle, a Volunteer is assigned to Atacora Essential to aid us in developing our small business. Indeed, they really help in building the capacity of our team in all manner of small business skills; from accounting to IT, from record keeping to management. Ah! But that is only the beginning of what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Boukombé, Benin!
The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:
- Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
As you can see, only one of the goals is focused on technical exchange. Goals 2 and 3 are cross-cultural in nature. However, the mission is best viewed form a whole systems perspective. Dave’s first-hand experience makes it very clear that integrating into the local society at a profound level (along the lines of goal 2) greatly improves a Volunteer’s ability to be effective in implementing the technical part of service. Learn the language. Circulate, greet people and be well-known. Eat and drink with the locals. Go to market often (it is the community hub, and lots of fun!).
Be a part of the community. Upon returning to the US from service, fulfilling the third goal can be deeply satisfying as well; opening Americans’ eyes to how deeply humane and fundamentally alike all people are.
Atacora Volunteers have the added benefit of living and operating in a fantastically beautiful, and culturally rich slice of West Africa.
Our great friend, Yves Todonou, is the Program Director for Peace Corps Benin’s Small Enterprise Development Program. He was a cross cultural teacher during Dave’s Peace Corps training in 1992, where they made fast friends, and so remain. Always a pleasure to go to Yves’ house for a feast!
Atacora’s committment to providing a productive and familial environment so that Volunteers and hot country nationals have the most rewarding experience possible is matched by Peace Corps’ committment to helping Atacora grow for the benefit of the people of the Atacora region.
Meet Our Volunteers:
When we started building our Baobab and Neem processing facility in the tiny village of Kouporgou, we met Carlan Gordon. She was a brand new Peace Corps Volunteer, and just getting familiar with her surroundings. We quickly invited her into the Atacora family, and took her under our wing. We are a friendly bunch, and we hit it right off! Carlan did help Atacora with business-related work, but she did so much more. She helped us plant thousands of Moringa trees on our terrain, developed personal relationships all around the area, mixed cement, toted sacks of Baobab and was well-loved all around. Carlon worked with Atacora from 2008 to 2010, and her local name was N’Kwa.
Josh Cunningham worked with Atacora from 2010 to 2011. He was the first Volunteer to be directly supervised by Atacora. He was definitely best buddies with Jacob, our Executive Director, and Thierry, our former lead Field Controler. Sadly, Thierry passed away during Josh’s service. That hurt Josh, and us all very deeply. Josh was tireless and gregarious. He was named Kora-Kora for the way he mixed the two qualities of tchoukoutou (sorghum beer) when he drank. He definitely helped get the staff up to speed with computers and accounting. He about wore himself out schlepping huge saks of Baobab Fruit and Neem seeds during our far-and-wide collection campaigns! He left a big impression on everyone by being such an adamant worker and kind fellow.
Steve Smith arrived in late 2011 and just finished his contract with Atacora. Steve brought alot of maturity, experience and know-how to his service (the benefit of being an older Volunteer). He was great at building the team’s capacity in record-keeping and accounting. He also worked with other local groups, such as a Women’s mango drying Co-operative. The locals named him Yoma-Yoma because of his calm, easy style. He is still working in Benin, and is quick to offer assistance.
Dave is still in Peace Corps training, and will arrive at his post in September 2013. He spent a week in Boukombé getting a feel for his assignment, and Jacob reports that he is young and dynamic! Our Dave is looking forward to meeting him and integrating him into our family!
Our Commitment to Peace Corps
Peace Corps is an amazing organization that has been providing assistance to developing countries around the world since the first Volunteers arrived in Ghana in 1961. It falls under the umbrella of the US Department of State, but operates very differently than, say, the Ambassadorial Mission. Peace Corps Volunteers are our true, boots (or flip-flops, as is often the case) on the ground, gritty diplomats. So many people around the world have known and been influenced by Peace Corps teachers, foresters, business agents and more. The lasting impression that Volunteers have left is, in fact, responsible for the positive light in which America and Americans are often viewed in developing countries. Volunteers teach and learn immesurably, and leave their service as different, better people than when they arrived. The ranks of the US Foreign Service and may other international organizations are literally filled with former Volunteers. Atacora is extremely proud to support this globally important mission, and considers the organization a crucial partner. Atacora Volunteers are always among the happiest and most productive in Benin!