Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

How Alaffia Helps Women and Children in West Africa

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.

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563 comments

Comments

Liz says …

I appreciate the opportunity to support companies whose beliefs align with my own.

Ann says …

We take so many things for granted; it's important to incorporate humanity into all of our daily practices.

Amy says …

Although I have never tried Alaffia products, I will now look for them at Whole Foods because of this story. However, I have for years purchased fair trade goods of all stripes because I believe it is important to support the hard work of real families and individuals everywhere. While I do not believe it is inherently "wrong" to be financially well-off, I do believe it is important to treat all humans with respect, including economic respect, rather than exploiting people for profit.

Christine N. says …

Alaffia products are so clean and pure...I love supporting a Whole Trade product that gives back to the community that helps to produce the products; and we consumers can enjoy the pure, beautiful products that have been made with love and care.

Maria Mantek says …

What a wonderful story about this company. I use the shea butter and love how it makes my hands feel. I try to purchase whole trade products to show support to those who are helping the community. Thank you for providing these products.

Connie says …

I am devoted to knowing that the money is spend is actually invested and not just spent. I have not tried these products but what better to fall in love with something than to win it first?!!!

cindy says …

I appreciate that my hard-earned dollars go to buy a great product *and* help others find a path to earn their own, much-needed dollars. Love Alaffia's hair lotion!

Venessa says …

I use the Shea butter baby balm & I love it! I feel good helping out the workers knowing they are getting what they deserve. Thanks for such a lovely giveaway! :-)

Jenny Langham says …

I met the owner/creator of Alaffia a few years ago. What a wonderful human being who is making a difference. I have used many of the products and they are excellent. I live in a very dry climate and the face and body lotions are very moisturizing. In addition knowing that buying these products supports fair trade makes me feel good about the purchase. Thank you!

Irene M. says …

I support fair trade and these wonderful products!

Belinda Gross says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to me, because it means that the people who are making this products are being treated fairly. I know that the world can become a better and happier place with Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products. I love how Alaffia products make me feel inside and out.

Rosine says …

Whole trade products are important for the community as well as my skin. Thanks Alaffia! :)

Gene Ulmer says …

I'm a true believer in Fair Trade products, that everybody deserves to receive a fair portion of the profits from their labor and what they produce. We just started to use their Authentic African Black Soap, peppermint, and we love the way it feels and smells. Keep up the good work, Alaffia.

Nancy says …

I am not familiar with Alaffia products but will check them out on my next visit to Whole Foods. I was touched by the blog story.

pernayan says …

This company supports the women and children in Africa buy giving them the essentials they need in life and supporting them. The company helps them to build self character too.

TG says …

would love to try this product, it's a good cause and appears to be a good product

Barb McMillen says …

It's so hard to express how my heart goes out to women who are forced to undergo circumcision. I think it is barbaric yet I know it is a cultural event and will be difficult to eradicate. But a start is a beginning. I buy, when possible, fair trade food/beauty products. I believe that without our help, empowerment of women would not exist. I have used Allafia hair products and they have given me the curls and softness I want in my hair. But as I shower, I wonder how many women who make the products ever went to school, did not endure abuse or even use the products. I hope that you continue to better their lives and wish to thank you, Whole Foods for doing the job you do.

Brendon says …

I have never tried their products but they sound like a wonderful company. I try to buy fair trade whenever I can.

Sam says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to me because social justice is important to me. I believe we are all equals on this earth, and if we are so blessed to lead privileged lives where our everyday necessities are taken for granted, then it is our social responsibility to help those who are not so privileged. I think creating this worldwide community, where all try and help one another instead of capitalizing on the exploitation of one another is the only route to creating a healthy, stable, peaceful Earth.

Virginia de Pintor says …

Looking forward to trying some products. Good to read about the fair trade aspect. I'm sure a lot of people must be thanked. So, Thank You for making the world a better place.

Stacia says …

I have never tried Allaffia products, and would love the opportunity. I have recently discovered the wonderful organic and all-natural products at Whole Foods, and have always supported fair-trade products. It is very important to empower every man, woman and child, teaching them that if they can dream it, they can achieve it. Thank you for all your wonderful support, kindness, and love you have shown people throughout the world. That is the beauty of humanity. :)

Julie L. says …

We have used some of these products purchased from Whole Foods & really like them. It's wonderful to read about all of the amazing ways Allaffia is helping communities and women. I want fair-trade for my talents and am becoming more aware of fair-trade products that I can support as well. Fair-Trade products are important because it's the right thing to do. I no longer buy the cheapest product I can find at big box stores...I look for locally grown foods & fair-trade with other non-perishable items & beauty supplies. I like that organizations are helping people to be self sufficient & empowered! The U.S. government could use a lesson in this.

Tomi says …

This article aspires me to do more for this world by understanding what each organization does for the local people. Thank you!

Elizabeth S says …

These products sounds excellent. Supporting fair-trade products promotes the well being of human kind.

amy says …

Alaffia changed my life! My skin used to be prone to frequent breakouts, but when I started using Alaffia African Black Soap, the breakouts stopped. Thank you Alaffia!

heather says …

anything we do to support fair-trade practices is helpful not only for the makers of the products, but for humankind as a whole. what goes around, comes around, and by purchasing and paying the appropriate price for a good or service, we are saying that we too wish to be compensated fairly for our time and expertise.

Juliann Goldman says …

Good products, good goals, good works, good deal!!!

Karen Fuls says …

I am 47 and noticing my skin changing. I have been trying various skin products but haven't found one I want to stick with. I love the story and would be honored to try their products. I thrive on helping others and always volunteer my time with helping others and would love to know that not only am I helping others locally but globally too!! Thank you for your consideration in picking me! Karen

anna says …

I haven't tried Alaffia products but will check them out at Whole Foods later today! I love learning about new products, especially those that support fair trade.

Christine says …

A great number of products are mass produced. Often the individuals involved are treated poorly regarding wages and safe and hygienic working conditions. Fair Trade ensures these issues (and more) are addressed. I purchase Fair Trade whenever possible. (Especially chocolate!! But of course health and beauty aids also!)

Pam Shay says …

Great products. Love that my purchase helps others.

misty says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed products are important to everyone because it is fair. They make me feel good knowing that I am contributing something.

Arlene says …

I recently started using Alaffia's body cream & lotion and what's even more exciting the curly hair activating cream!! I have real curly hair and it loves the shea butter. My hair is no longer dry or frizzy!! It's so much more manageable and what I love about buying Alaffia products most of all is that it is helping others in an unfortunate struggling country. What could be better than that but to spend our money for a worthy cause. I will be buying the face cleanser next and using as many of the products as possible. Thank you for making such a clean worthy product and may God bless all your efforts as you help others.

Chalandra says …

I have used Alaffia's hair products: Beautiful Curls Shea Butter Curl Reviving Tonic and Virgin Coconut and Shea Enriching Hair Lotion. Both products are great for natural hair. I think it is important that the people responsible for making the products I am blessed enough to be able to buy are paid a fair living wage for their labor.

Elena King says …

I love Alaffia product and I really support Fare Trade, I feel better as a person and consumer by knowing that producers receiving fair pays and their quality of life is improving.

April T says …

This is a wonderful story. It really makes us appreciate the freedoms and liberties we enjoy in the US, but also shows how we can then do wonderful acts of kindness and humanitarianism with what we have. I will look for these products when I'm at WF next.

Joanna says …

Haven't tried Alaffia's products yet, but I'd love to!

Julie Derrickson says …

Sounds like a great program. I would like to try the product.

Viv Wong says …

Its not just the high quality of the products but a portion of the business goes towards improvement of lives in West Africa.

Jessica says …

I just purchased my first Allafia product today. Although I haven't even tried this product, I could not be happier about the work you are doing to empower women in Togo. Coincidentally, I started reading Half the Sky about the oppression and sexism women endure all over the world, so I am so happy to know that companies such as this one are not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. Thank you Olowo-n’djo for taking a product we purchase in America and using it for a cause that is beyond pertinent. I look forward to supporting your cause through my humble purchase of shea butter for years to come. I fully support you!

Shannon says …

I love Alaffia's shea butter products. They are so high quality, and I appreciate the quality standards that go in to whole trade products. A basket of Alaffia would be wonderful!

Connie Crow says …

It is a great product but a greater cause.

Kitty Blocher says …

WOW....what a great way to give back! I will be trying this product, even if I don't win! Thank you for sharing.

t. bintijuwa says …

Allafia: a wonderful greeting, as well as blessing for peace, health and wellbeing. What an aptly named business. Finally, a product line that matches the mission! Nurturing & empowering women through honest & fair trade practices is a win-win for all. Love the products, but more, appreciate all the good that the proceeds from their sale do to help the world.

Stevie Duvall says …

I haven't tried the products, but I will now.

Rocharlotte says …

I love Whole Trade products because they help women and help my Afro stay beautiful and natural.

Carmen Andrews says …

It's important to help others have better living conditions and earn a livable wage, that's why i buy fair trade products.

Dara says …

whole trade products are great because everyone wins

Linda W. says …

Everything about them sounds so wonderful!

Melodie B says …

We love Alaffia's Lavender hand soap!!! I try to buy fair trade whenever possible. I like to think that buying something here will help others sustain their passions elsewhere.

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