Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

How Alaffia Helps Women and Children in West Africa

By Olowo-n'djo Tchala, May 1, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Olowo-n'djo Tchala

Congratulations to giveaway winner Denise C. from New Hampshire! Thanks to everyone who entered - we loved hearing what Alaffia's products and story mean to you!   Olowo-n’djo Tchala is the Founder and Director of Alaffia. As one of our Whole Trade® vendors he is committed to making sure employees and suppliers receive better wages and working conditions. In addition, Alaffia gives back in so many ways to the African community in Togo. In appreciation for our customers’ support of Alaffia’s mission, Olowo-n’djo is giving away a beautiful gift basket filled with Alaffia’s Everyday Shea products.

Read on to find out how to enter.

Year after year, I have become even more confident that through the support of our retailers and customers in the US, not only is Alaffia able to produce quality skincare products, but it is also possible to lead our West African communities out of poverty. In my Whole Story blog post last year, I shared the steps that we’re taking in Togo to help reduce poverty and bring about gender equality. Now, after returning from a six week visit home to Togo, I am pleased to share the progress that’s been made and and the activities that we participated in while there.

New Coconut Cooperative Due to the success of our EveryDay Shea bodycare products and the increasing need for coconut oil for our soaps, we decided to build a new coconut cooperative and form a collective of women to work at this cooperative. This project brought back great memories of when I started our Sokodé shea butter cooperative eight years ago. I remember the doubt in the women’s eyes, and I saw similar uncertainty in the new coconut collective members.

I believe that in the months to come, this doubt will be transformed to pride and empowerment just as it has for the women of the shea butter cooperative. Our new coconut cooperative officially opened the first week of March and provides work for over 200 women.

Distributing Bicycles and Helping Teachers The bikes that we shipped last fall arrived in Togo during our visit, and after the bikes cleared customs and arrived in Sokodé, my wife Rose and I participated in bicycle distributions in four villages. The village of Kpalafoulassi stood out as it is a struggling community made up of subsistence farmers.

The nearest secondary school is 7 km from Kpalafoulassi, and high school students (above grade 11) must go 17 km. Regardless of these difficulties, Kpalafoulassi manages to send an impressive number of students to higher grades. These bicycles help these dedicated students get to school.

Furthermore, while Kpalafoulassi does have a primary school, it only has three classrooms for its six classes. And, since the Togo government pays for only two teachers, the villagers pay for a third "volunteer" teacher, who is paid only $11 a month to teach two grades.

Since this is obviously not a living wage, the teacher, Mr. Djannou had to supplement his income by farming – even during the school year. As part of our education projects, Alaffia has decided to sponsor this teacher by paying his full salary, $76 each month, for one year. In return, Mr. Djannou will devote his whole time to teaching.

Building a School For the first time, Alaffia has commissioned and constructed a secondary school. We built this school in Kouloumi, a village located 40 kilometers from our Sokodé shea butter cooperative. Although Kouloumi is located on a main road and has a population of 3,000, there is no electricity or running water. While the Togo government provided Kouloumi with a secondary school director and teachers, it did not provide them with the school building. Six years ago, the villagers constructed a simple building to hold the classes, but it did not have walls or a good roofing system, and when it rained, the water poured into the school, and students were often sent home.

Also, because the school is on the outskirts of the village, snakes and other animals constantly entered the building, causing interruptions and making learning difficult. For the past three years, Alaffia has been providing Kouloumi with desks, and during our 2010 visit to the school, their headmaster, Mr. Ganiyou, asked for help building a school in order to reduce the dropout rate and improve the learning experience for his students.

Although Alaffia had not undertaken such a large project for one village before, I replied that I would do everything I could to build Kouloumi a school. Construction began in March 2011, and was fully completed by December 15. The inauguration day was emotional, where the village chief, government representatives and students all expressed their joy and many words of thanks.

Women’s Health Community Project For many years, I have lived with an unpleasant image in my mind of witnessing my older half-sister undergoing excision (female circumcision) when I was six years old. At the time I was asked to bring bowls of warm water back and forth from the kitchen to the room where the excision was taking place.

Ever since, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of the pain my sister must have gone through. Fast forward to December 2010, when my youngest sister, Ibada, was finalizing her studies to become a midwife. She was stationed at a small clinic in Kabou, about 85 kilometers from Sokodé, and told me that the most difficult part of her training in Kabou was delivering babies from women who have undergone excision.

The pain these women go through to birth their children is indescribable, and unfortunately, they make up the majority of women who die during childbirth. At the time of our discussion, I told Ibada that we would launch a new project aimed at aiding these women during pregnancy and childbirth and also a community education program to reduce excision all together. Recently, Ibada joined Alaffia as our new Community Projects Coordinator, and we began this project. Alaffia obtained authorization to take charge of full medical care for 300 excised pregnant women during 2012.

This means that Alaffia will not only pay for all medical cost if there are complications, but will also coordinate between the women and the clinic so that transportation is available to bring the women to larger hospitals if complicated surgeries are needed.

This project will be one of the most sensitive and difficult that we have ever taken on, as it is a very socially sensitive and medically challenging topic. According to Mamatou Kegbao, the Head Midwife of Kabou, 1 in every 10 women who come to her clinic for maternal care has undergone excision, but most women who have undergone this procedure do not ever come to the clinic. This compounds this issue, since it means Alaffia staff will have to visit their homes to encourage them to come to the clinic for care and delivery.

As challenging as this will be, I believe that if Alaffia truly stands for women's empowerment, then we must do everything necessary to prevent unnecessary suffering of these mothers in central Togo. During our visit to the Kabou clinic, we also distributed some basic medical supplies, and we are planning to make another shipment to them by July. One of the most disturbing things that Ms. Kegbao brought to our attention was that the clinic has very limited surgical and birthing supplies. Therefore if there are two women giving birth at the same time, the second one may have to wait while the equipment is sterilized.

Therefore, they have to make the difficult decision of losing a baby by forcing the mother to wait or risk exposing the mother and child to HIV by using unsterilized equipment. This is not a decision that any person should have to make.

In Conclusion It is very sad for me to see conditions worsening for poor people worldwide each year. Even in Togo, we see increasing environmental degradation, economic dominance by only a few people, political elitism, and increasing population. I often ask myself if I can do enough. But after seeing the few lives that our efforts touch, I feel even stronger that the fight for social and economic justice for all disadvantaged people must continue at all costs. It is a struggle that the support of you, our customers, and our retailers such as Whole Foods Market, will make feasible in the end.

I am forever humble and grateful to be able to give my life to such a cause, as the only way for my children and their children to have peaceful lives on this earth is to care about human life today.

Have you tried Alaffia’s products or support their mission? Leave a comment below by May 9 and tell us why Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to you. We’ll pick a winner at random to receive a beautiful handwoven basket full of Alaffia products!

The fine print: No purchase necessary. Promotion ends May 9, 2012. Must be a legal resident of the US or Canada (except in Quebec, where it is void) age 18 or older to participate. Taxes on prize, if applicable, are the responsibility of the winner. Employees of Whole Foods Market, Inc., are not eligible. Void where prohibited.




DI says ...
Haven't tried the products, but will look for them next time I'm in the stores.
05/01/2012 4:25:58 PM CDT
Julia says ...
I use - and love - Alaffia's Beautiful Curls product. There are many things about the product that I like - its real ingredients, that it's a northwest-based company and that it's fair trade certified. It bothers me to buy products that are produced by taking advantage of workers and suppliers in developing nations. It's important to me to search out and support companies who operate ethically and reinvest in their community (however they define their community). I love to see companies being socially responsible and good corporate citizens like Alaffia. I am pleased to spend my money with companies that operate that way and I appreciate Whole Foods for making products from those kinds of companies readily available and easy to find.
05/02/2012 11:36:28 AM CDT
nicole says ...
That is a heart wrenching story. To think these issues still plauge us today. I did not know that whole foods was so active aboard. Makes me think twice about where I will be shopping from now on.
05/02/2012 11:36:59 AM CDT
Joanna Lynne Smith says ...
Wow. Whole Trade is so crucial when purchasing items not grown/produced in the US. Whole Trade really helps ensure everyone is treated fairly, uses ethical practices, and helps to sustain their communities. Thanks to Whole Foods for educating others about the importance of Whole Trade!
05/02/2012 12:55:07 PM CDT
Jennifer says ...
I use and love Alaffia Shea lotion. It is crucial that we continue to educate ourselves and others of what goes on behind the growth and production of products which we so often take for granted.
05/02/2012 2:05:33 PM CDT
Nicole Green says ...
I have never used Alaffia, however I would make a purchase because its helps in the community development. I think it is Important for the women of the West African community have maternal care and their families to have access to education. Economical development is an Important part of the enhancement of a community. It opens the door to so many oppurtunities to grow.
05/02/2012 3:59:12 PM CDT
Sara S says ...
I haven't seen these products, but will look for them. I think it's extremely important to participate in whole trade. Don't keep people in poverty, give them a way to rise up.
05/02/2012 5:37:12 PM CDT
Karil Whetstone says ...
sounds great
05/02/2012 5:37:31 PM CDT
Bridget Strand says ...
Great story. So many women worldwide die in childbirth and often children do not survive either. It's a problem we can actually make strides to fix and I for one will be looking for these products.
05/02/2012 5:42:41 PM CDT
Julie Abbott says ...
I think it is great what you are doing. And to know each time I purchase one of these products, I to get to help. We all should care more and do what we can to make a difference!!!
05/02/2012 5:43:43 PM CDT
Tina says ...
I love the Alaffia lotion. I actually tried it because I'd heard of the company and loved what they were doing. Upon trying the lotion, I was even more impressed. Great products. Great company. Many could learn a thing or two from these people.
05/02/2012 5:43:48 PM CDT
Alaina Sigler says ...
I use the Everyday Shea shampoo, conditioner, and lotion . They are all fantastic products and I am proud to support such a wonderful company that gives back to communities in need!
05/02/2012 5:44:10 PM CDT
Mika says ...
Have never heard of this line of product. I believe all stores should support and carry fair-trade items. It is sad how Western consumerism effects poverty in the world and how powerful when it can be a force against it.
05/02/2012 5:44:30 PM CDT
Bridget says ...
I love that Whole Foods is involved in these type of activities and choose carefully the products that support whole trade - although I am not familiar with these products I will certainly look for them as they support a good cause!
05/02/2012 5:45:05 PM CDT
Cacey says ...
Whole Trade is important because it includes the WHOLE world. I definitely support Alaffia’s products and mission - Amazing!
05/02/2012 5:45:47 PM CDT
Dianne says ...
I love the Virgin Coconut & Shea Hydrating Body Lotion. It's got such pure ingredients. The fact that the company is Fair Trade and helps the women and children in Togo is really fantastic. What a great business model!
05/02/2012 5:45:57 PM CDT
K says ...
Ensuring that people who produce receive reasonable wages is a priority.
05/02/2012 5:46:07 PM CDT
Cheryl says ...
I can fully support this.
05/02/2012 5:46:26 PM CDT
A says ...
Whole Trade Guaranteed makes for a better world!
05/02/2012 5:46:27 PM CDT
Elise O. says ...
I've never tried the Alaffia products, but I am so inspired and moved by the heart behind them. I am delighted to support organizations such as these, and would love to try out their products.
05/02/2012 5:46:43 PM CDT
stephanie t says ...
I have not tried them. Fair trade products are setting an example to others of which our country was built on, trading. Giving everyone a chance to market their wares ~ and earning money to support their families.
05/02/2012 5:46:54 PM CDT
Claire says ...
These look like great products and a great cause!
05/02/2012 5:46:58 PM CDT
Shayna says ...
I have used the Everyday Shea soap since it arrived in my local Whole Foods, and when the store started carrying Everyday Coconut, I had to give it a try. Both products are fantastic, and now I'm hooked on the Everyday Coconut lotion. I know my purchase of Alaffia products helps support truly good work, but this article is a mind-blowing reminder that the choices we as consumers make -- especially consumers in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet -- have a tremendous and far-reaching impact for individuals and communities in desperate need of basic resources. Our choices help make a HUGE difference for other people. What's not to love about Alaffia and other Whole Trade products? They're about people, not profits. This is really the icing on the cake, as Whole Trade products tend to be outstanding anyway! Thank you for all you do, Alaffia, and thanks Whole Foods, for carrying this line and other Whole Trade products.
05/02/2012 5:47:22 PM CDT
Claudia says ...
I find this concept of products from all over the world working to improve a community a wonderful idea. The products are made with love and care and gives people s sense of pride in their work and that they are helping their community. I would love to sample these products.
05/02/2012 5:47:38 PM CDT
Teresa Cangiano says ...
I have never tryed there products and given the chance to do so. Would help me appreaciate what whole trade is all about and the benefits of helping others to acheive there goals.
05/02/2012 5:47:38 PM CDT