Abel Chadi Adje’s passion for helping the poor people in his native community of Sokodé, Togo, and surrounding villages brought him to Mercer Island three months ago.
Adje, 35, is here as one of four International Fellows at iLEAP: The Center for Critical Service, a nonprofit organization. He has been staying with the Streeter family on the north end of the Island and commuting by bus to Seattle for the iLEAP program, which has four themes: global citizenship and civil society, reflective practice, collaborative leadership and social and environmental sustainability.
Through iLEAP, Adje — who speaks both French and English — is learning how to be an effective communicator and organize community support and participation, among other issues. He has been attending academic seminars and meeting with local nonprofits such as Village Volunteers and Goodwill.
As the program coordinator of the Global Alliance for Community Empowerment (GACE), Adje oversees the Bikes for Education and reforestation projects in Togo.
His mission is to help his neighbors, near and far, to benefit from their natural resources. His motivation for his work, he said, comes from his heart.
“They need someone to open their eyes to use their resources,” he said. “We want to show them that they can use what they have to come out of their poverty.”
Adje directs a group of more than 100 women who make shea butter and another group that weaves baskets out of grass. Their shea butter products and baskets are sold by Alaffia, a fair trade organization, and are available in local Whole Foods stores.
“Abel has a very good business sense,” said Deborah Streeter, Adje’s hostess and an iLEAP board member.
Adje grew up in Benin, which borders Togo on the east. When he was 16 years old, he moved from Benin to Togo so that he could attend school. He lived with his uncle, who sent him to the University of Lome in Togo’s capital, Lome, to study economics. Adje now owns a farm, where he keeps chickens and turkeys, and grows mango trees, corn and rice. He also has a wife and three children.
Adje works to provide wood benches for African children in collaboration with hired carpenters. As for the children who live in villages that are miles away from the nearest school — they need backpacks and bicycles, which Adje helps to supply through Bicycles for Education. But first, he must determine what children need bicycles, a process that involves meeting with school staff to verify needy children’s attendance.
The Bicycles for Education program in Washington state is based in Olympia, where 2,000 bikes have been collected since the first shipment was sent last year. The bikes will be shipped to Togo on Aug. 8 and 9.
Adje will return to Togo at the end of June and continue to pursue social change. He will remember Mercer Island, his first introduction to the United States, as “quiet, good for study, and clean.”
Yogabliss, located at 7650 S.E. 27th St. #134 on Mercer Island, is collecting backpacks for Togo children. A Bicycles for Education jamboree will take place from June 27 to July 3 in Olympia to prepare the bikes for shipment — removing pedals and handlebars, and oiling parts. Volunteers are needed during the jamboree on Tuesdays and Sundays, starting at 10 a.m., though other scheduling can be arranged, at 8300 Steamboat Island Rd., Olympia. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact David Goldman at (508) 560-6576.