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

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!

Cacey says …

Whole Trade is important because it includes the WHOLE world. I definitely support Alaffia’s products and mission - Amazing!

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!!!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

Karil Whetstone says …

sounds great

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Marisa says …

I just recently discovered your products and love your passion for helping the people of Togo. I will be continuing to purchase and telling all my friends.

Kelly says …

I love everything about whole foods and shop there as much as I can!!!

Renae says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed products are important for everyone--the buyers and the people making the products especially because of the opportunities it provides to those in need.

Veronica says …

I love that Whole Foods offers it's customers the opportunity to support fair working conditions and wages through The Whole Trade Program. I faithfully use Alaffia's Shea and Virgin Coconut Enriching Hair Lotion as it NATURALLY and thoroughly hydrates my tightly coiled hair. And the scent is light and wonderful, too.

Karen F says …

I just discovered these products, and had no idea of the backstory. Now I am so happy to support such a wonderful company and I will continue to buy your products (which are excellent, by the way!) Quality with a conscience - I love it! God bless you and the work you do to improve people's lives!

Sandy D says …

I strongly support the work to help the women and children in west Africa. I am for "Human Rights not Inhuman Wrongs". Thank you for the background story and for all you do. I will look for the products next time I shop.

Betsy Collins says …

We discovered the Alaffia shower gel last year and have used it faithfully since then! I work with three people from Togo and love that I am contributing to assist their home country. I wish you well with the new Coconut cooperative!

Andria says …

I like buying Whole Trade products because I like to support ethical companies that give back to the community.

DI says …

Haven't tried the products, but will look for them next time I'm in the stores.

Jenna says …

I have always made a conscious decision about where and how items I purchase are made. Fair/Whole Trade products are fabulous because they assist people in obtaining a fair wage and a decent living in order to have the chance at a better live that hopefully becomes free from want. I have not yet tried any Alaffia products, but after reading this story, I am grateful to Mr. Tchala for assisting the women and children in Togo with all the wonderful things he is doing for their community. He is definitely walking the walk instead of just talking the talk, and is so humble thinking what he does is not enough! He is a beautiful human being and I would be happy to support him and his company so that he may continue to do such amazing work and provide his community with the chances of an easier life.

Gloria Rothstein says …

It is very important to be careful what you put on your skin. What you eat and what you put on your skin affects your health. Supporting companies that are careful about what ingredients they use ensures that these products continue to be available.

Alesha says …

Whole Trade Guarunteed products are important to me because I like knowing that the everyday purchases I make are, in some small way, helping to create a better quality of life for the people and communities that produce these products. Go to most other stores and that is a hard thing to find.

Juan says …

These stories are really inspiring.

Jalisa Harris says …

I believe that the company Alaffia is doing the right thing by their constituency and staffs. To make sure that people are sustainable, or in the least healthy is a wonderful cause!I guess thats what Whole Trade is to me, access and the agency of an agency..

Cheryl says …

I really love the shea balm. It is wonderful for hands and feet. I appreciate being able to help others with purchases I make. I like being able to make a difference even if it is a small one!

Elizabeth says …

I have to be honest in saying I have yet to try Alaffia products. I have tried other product lines at Whole Foods. It makes me very happy knowing Whole Foods gives back to the community & supports the sustainbility of these families in need. I truly feel small steps lead to big change.

alh1203 says …

I really love the fair trade items and the fact that this company is working towards fair working conditions.

Megan Sforzini says …

I love Alaffia's products. I started using them when I made the switch to clean ingredients in my beauty products. Even though there are a lot of companies out there I could purchase from, I would much rather give my money to a company who is not only looking out for my health and well-being but the health and well-being of the most important people involved in the process. Please keep doing what you're doing so we can enjoy your products for years to come!

Mandy says …

Have not tried the products, but I would be willing to spend money on stuff that is for such a great cause. You all have my support!

Mary says …

I have not yet tried Alaffia, but do try to buy fair trade when possible.

Jennifer Miller says …

Thank you Olowo-n'djo for choosing to make a difference. Your simple choice to DO something about what you witnessed your sister go through is a blessing to so many others. As a volunteer for a non profit based in Boulder, CO and Kampala, Uganda, I appreciate the fact that you give birth to so many opportunities for women who just need the chance, a simple opportunity to create change for themselves.... I have used shea butter from another source in Africa, that serves impoverished women seeking to lift their families from extreme poverty, and until today, did not know that Whole Foods carried the Alaffia line. It is refreshing to have this educational blog available to consumers, so we have the choice to make a difference and to help change lives. Every action in life is a CHOICE.... we can choose to go about our daily lives, turning a blind eye to things that we can fix... or we can step up and use the gifts and talents given to us to help make the world a better place in which to live. Being able to purchase Whole Trade products is a two fold blessing... it blesses the recipient, who gets to hear and share in the story behind the product, and it blesses the maker, who is given the opportunity to be a productive member of society, wherever that may be. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to support my fellow women living a world away.. you just made the Earth that much smaller, and those women that much closer! Respectfully, Jennifer Miller

karen says …

It is so heartening to read about this company and how their efforts help their village and support their families.

Kim says …

I love Whole Foods's passion for Healthy food, Healthy planet and for stories like this that show how they give back to the community and help others. I will definitely look for Alaffia products next time I am in the store.

mla says …

Whole trade products are so clean and socially responsible. I love supporting a Whole Trade product that gives back to the community

Calshondra Williams says …

I have never tried the products. But, I have heard that Alaffia products are clean and pure. I support Whole Trade products that give back to the community.

Chantal says …

It is important to say thank you to those who help those who no one else might help; who decide it will be the basis of their company and life work to do so, and produce a great product at that! I love your shea conditioner (wow a conditioner that actually absorbs into your hair, what an idea!) ;)

Christina says …

What an amazing man with an amazing story.I wish you continued success on your journey!,

Liz says …

For a while, I could not find a product that was clean and pure that could control by course curls like Alaffia. Now I buy all their products with out hesitation. Thank you!

katrina says …

i think this is a wonderful mission

Sarah says …

Enough with chemicals! We as women need to know what we are putting on and into our bodies. We also need to support companies like this who assist others on this earth while providing us with natural products. Wonderful story!

interested says …

After reading the story of what these women go through and about the product. I am willing to give them a try to help support the organization and to see how wonderful they might be. Also I will search fo children products as well. keep on doing whatg you are doing.

Angela Roberts says …

Such a wonderful story, I will definitely support Whole Trade products. I can't wait to purchase Alaffia products and help support this mission.

Ilse says …

Your article has compelled me to seek out Alaffia products simply on the premise that I appreciate and want to support their endeavor. Kudos to you for bringing their story to the fore front. That is a major reason why I am an email subscriber to Whole Foods. You're like the Economist of Food Stores - I feel like I get the whole and true story. Keep it whole!

Rosemary says …

Your mission statement is what speaks to me. Thank you for keeping us informed and of the progress that has been made. I love the unscented Shea butter.... and the beautiful bright colors of the baskets....I see hope in them.

hutch says …

i feel good know that there is still a company out there that cares about the rest of the world.

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