ARCHIVE: CSI Koffi Hoenou – From Togolese Teacher to U.S. Citizen
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Mr. Koffi Hoenou is a consumer safety inspector (CSI) in Gadsden, Alabama. His FSIS career began in February 2020 as a food inspector (FI), and, just over a year later, he earned a promotion to CSI. His job is to examine production facilities and ensure compliance with processing and sanitation regulations to protect public health and ensure good commercial practices of poultry slaughter and humane handling of livestock presented for slaughter.
Hoenou’s Path to U.S. Citizenship
Hoenou’s parents, originally from Togo, West Africa, immigrated to Nigeria in the early 1960s. After the death of his father, his mother brought him back to Togo when he was primary school age. While French is the official language in Togo, Hoenou also learned to speak English and German in school. His English skills would serve him well when he immigrated to the United States.
In November 2005, Hoenou was working as a literature teacher in Togo when he decided to apply to the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security. Each year, the program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available to individuals, drawn randomly, from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Hoenou’s application was selected and he immigrated to Alabama in late 2007. While he was getting established, Hoenou stayed with a cousin’s friend while his cousin was deployed with the U.S. Navy. He briefly worked the night shift as a gas station custodian before landing a job at a plant that processed chicken.
After living in the United States for five years, Hoenou took the U.S. citizenship (naturalization) test (which consists of an English exam and a civics exam) and participated in a naturalization interview. He became a U.S. citizen on October 26, 2012.
Twelve years into his work at that chicken processing establishment, FSIS CSI Angela Dandridge, who worked at the plant, suggested he consider a job with the Agency. Said Dandridge, “I observed Koffi in his performance daily and noticed how he took pride in his job and was eager to learn more about food safety. He has a genuine concern for how we produce food in this country.” Dandridge showed him how to apply for the job on USAjobs.gov, and Hoenou was thankful to be selected for the position at the establishment in Gadsden. Dandridge continues to mentor him. “We look at the educational courses the Agency offers and have set goals for promotions and jobs within the Agency. I have advised him that there are lots of opportunities in this Agency; if you come to work, apply yourself and do a good job, you can have a successful career,” she said.
Hoenou’s Role at FSIS
The past year has been busy for Hoenou, as he traveled to various establishments in Alabama, Iowa and Minnesota, filling in for FI vacancies. He also completed Inspection Methods training and was promoted to CSI.
“My job is important to FSIS because I protect public health. As a CSI, I make sure the product the establishment produces is wholesome and not adulterated when it enters commerce. I take pride in what I do every day because my satisfaction always comes from a job well done,” said Hoenou.
Supervisory Consumer Safety Inspector Kenny Underwood, Hoenou’s supervisor, describes him as a very dependable employee. “He arrives at work each day with a great attitude and smile on his face. He is a hard worker who takes pride in his work. I was pleased to see Koffi, one of our newer employees, helping more experienced inspectors working on computers. He is willing to do anything to help our team accomplish our mission.”
Of the four FSIS Core Values – Accountable, Collaborative, Empowered and Solutions-Oriented – Hoenou said, “I believe I am a collaborative and solutions-oriented person. On the one hand, I can work with different people and my goal is to make sure everybody receives fair treatment. On the other hand, I am always ready to help find solutions to a problem if I can.”
A graduate of Université du Benin, in Lomé, Togo (now called Université de Lomé), Hoenou graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature. He also completed one year of graduate studies in English Africa literature (the literature of English-speaking countries in Africa).
He has taken classes at Gadsden State Community College in Gadsden, Alabama, and in the next five years, he plans to complete a degree in food processing. Professionally, his objective is to grow with the Agency by either becoming a frontline supervisor or an enforcement, investigations and analysis officer (EIAO). During his Inspection Methods training, he learned that many EIAOs were teachers before becoming trainers – a concept that is not lost on this former English literature teacher.
Hoenou is married to Agboedohoin Apekou and has two daughters, Bernice Akossiwa Hoenou (age 15) and Janice Apefa Hoenou (age 12). Teaching others about food safety comes naturally to Hoenou. He has taken it upon himself to teach his daughters, and he says his friends are always excited to learn food safety from him because they have faith in him, especially because he is an FSIS employee.
In his down time, Hoenou enjoys going to the gym and reading, especially philosophical articles. In addition to English, French and German, Hoenou speaks Yoruba, a language spoken in Benin and in the southwestern part of Nigeria. He also speaks, writes and reads Ewe, a language spoken in Togo, Ghana and Benin. He enjoys watching French channels on television, as well as the news from around the world. He likes watching the National Geographic and Animal Planet channels as well.
Hoenou serves as Secretary General for “la Communauté Togolaise d’Alabama” (the Togolese Community in Alabama). The organization is comprised of people from Togo who help members of their community and participate in naming ceremonies, birthdays, weddings and funerals.
CSI Koffi Hoenou checks his email at the poultry establishment where he works in Gadsden, Alabama.
CSI Koffi Hoenou with his mentor, CSI Angela Dandridge.
CSI Koffi Hoenou.