Meet the People Behind Atacora
Atacora Fair Trade
Working together for a better future.
The Atacora Team
The Atacora team is a big family, tied by clan and village. As a collective, our mission is to collaborate in the direct fight against poverty and inequality, restoring people’s pride in knowing that a bright future is in their own hands. Atacora’s leadership on local initiatives in the fields of education, healthcare and environmental stewardship can be felt throughout the region.
US Team Members
Dave B. Goldman - Founder and PresidentDave 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 Manzanares – Managing Director
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.
Benin Team Members
Jacob Ghanaba - Executive Director, Atacora Essential-Bénin ONG
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 Wema - Director of Field Operations and Co-op Manager, Atacora Essential-Bénin ONG
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 - Accountant and TreasurerFouti 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 - SecretaryVeronique 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.
Abel Chabi Adjé - Sustainable Community Development Consultant, Fair Trade Specialist, Logistics Coordinator
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!
Fair Trade Partners
Meet a few of our Fair Trade Partners
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.
N'Dah Tcheta Colette
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!
N'Tcha N'KouaFive 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.
N'Tcha JosephineIt 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.
N'Saka AliceAlice 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.
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.