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

Sarah says …

I think it's important to connect with our brothers and sisters around the globe. Whole trade is great!

Melissa Carey says …

Its important to me because I'm not willing to sacrifice someone else's quality of living for my own!!! Fair trade is the way to go.

Wendy kurimoto says …

I love alaffia products and support them because of the quality of their products and what their products stand for. It's Important to support fair trade products and companies that give back. We all need to help each other no matter what part of the earth we live in.

Tessa R says …

Love Alaffia Body Lotion and Shea Butter. My husband likes the unscented shampoo. Was excited to try the new coconut scent the last time we were at Whole Foods. We chose Alaffia knowing they were whole trade products and didn't have any scary ingredients, and am thrilled to read about the work they are doing! Wow!

Abby R says …

Wow - I have never tried their products but they sound like a wonderful company. Fair trade is so important - it helps ensure that the products we use and enjoy are also giving back to the people who make them.

Lori Wilson-Hopkins says …

I am not familiar with Alaffia products but I will definitely look into them. Purchasing fair trade products in order to better the lives of others in the world is very important to me. I try to buy fair trade whenever possible.

Paula says …

Allfaia's make your skin feel sooo nice. I support whole trade products.

Carol Feiner says …

This story is so moving and inspiring. Every person has the right to clean water, health care, education, and personal dignity. Whole Trade items can help achieve these goals

Mary Capps says …

Living in the US, it's far too easy for us to forget how difficult life is for others in the world. If we just take a little bit of time and research these alternative products, I think we'll find we're not only getting great products, but we're making life better for people in all parts of the world!

Haley Jensen says …

This article was very inspiring! Thank you.

Amy F says …

It is important to support Whole Trade items so that the communities of these people grow and flourish in a constructive environment.

Patricia says …

These products rock. I have very sensitive skin, and the skin on my hands especially always needs to be moist or it cracks open. My skin absorbs Alaffia products immediately, and I know it's ONLY absorbing stuff that is good for it. What goes on your skin goes in your body.

Sylvia R says …

So inspiring!Thank you

Kelly says …

Whole Trade is what I mainly look for in a product! I believe in fair wages for everyone and helping people earn a living. When I shop for gifts, I always try to find fair trade products. Thank you!

dmitriy korabelnikov says …

because people deserve to be paid a good wage for hard backbreaking labor so we can enjoy their products here

Angie B says …

Haven't tried, but would like to! With so many crooked corporations these days only thinking of the bottom line, it's good to see a group support a noble cause.

Christine says …

I have never tried or even heard of Alaffia's products. I think it is great that these products can give jobs to extremely poor people. I think it is important for companies to be able to support local communities - to give them opportunities to better their lives and give them a sense of accomplishment and pride in contributing to society.

nik says …

It's important to me because it humanizes the creator of what I buy, ensures they work and trade in a fair and sustainable way, and helps contribute to the physical, mental and spiritual health of our people and our planet! Cheers!

Lori says …

How inspiring! I haven't tried these products yet, but I definitely will now.

Linda Bird says …

I lived in a third world country as a child and can attest to the benefit of providing opportunities for trade of local products from these countries. When we teach the local peoples to 'fish', they become self-supporting. Having 'Whole Trade' products available for purchase is one way for many of us to contribute to the good of all (on Mother Earth).

Jenn says …

I LOVE the Alaffia curl cream! It's the best one I've tried at frizz control & cost less than many others too. It's a huge bonus that they are also such a remakable organization! Many others could learn a thing or two...

marie says …

Keep up the good work. Through organizations like this, we can all help a little and it's the little things that add up.

Cyn says …

every purchase is a vote to support a larger movement that believes in community and wholeness

Dory Young says …

It's important to me because it benefits people in need. I will look for these products during my next Whole Foods visit!

Heather says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to you because they are high quality!

Alexandra says …

I love their products, I love their passion, I love their positive impact in the lives of those they help (be it via their products' use or directly). Thank you Alaffia, keep up the tremendous work!

Chris says …

This is a very important cause. Everyone needs to be treated fairly. I will definetly look into buying more of these products!

nicole says …

I love these products! The shampoo really nourishes the hair, and the body lotions feel like they are instantly absorbed into the skin. They have a pleasant smell, too.

Linda says …

Whole trade guaranteed products are very important to me. They guarantee better wages and working conditions in addition to proper environmental practices and quality products. This is the kind of consciousness, care, responsibility and respect we need.

Ann says …

I often buy fair trade projects, but after reading this article I will go out of my way to do so. I am most grateful for Olowo-n'djo Tchala and others like him.

Katie says …

I love Alaffia's Shea butter, and that they are actually good for your skin. I also love supporting the women trying to make their lives better against terrible odds! It shows how God can work miracles :-)

Cate Epley says …

I have used these products for a couple years and am a big fan of the quality of the products. I spent a lot of time researching the products since I take a lot of care with my skin. I have spent a lot of money on products but am now a committed customer of this great company with reasonably priced products. I had no idea of the ethical, community-oriented and Fair Trade efforts. Having this information about the company's additional mission makes me all the more committed to this product line.

Anna says …

I use the Blissful Baby balm as a heavy hand or body cream. It is high quality with no junk and reasonably priced. I'm glad to read that its production and sale is improving lives where conditions are extremely difficult.

Barbara says …

i think whole trade and fair trade is very important for all.

Jenny says …

I believe Whole Trade/Fair Trade is important because it helps ensure that the people and land that products come from are being treated fairly. It just makes sense and truly should be the standard, not the exception. I have not tried this particular brand of products, but now I definitely intend to. Great story, thank you for sharing!!

Amanda says …

I love Alaffia products especially knowing I can use them for my daughters with the reassurance that they are pure and natural. I had no idea that in choosing Alaffia products such amazing work is being supported!

Nadezda says …

i love the product. and the cuse is great!

Annie says …

So glad there are organizations out there like this that we can support!

Diana says …

I come from a third world country and for me is really important that we not only be conscious about others but us, but to be involve in a whole/fair trade and recognize and help one an other is the only way for true happiness. Thank you for you support and help to the local and global community.

catharine says …

I support their mission! Big change happens in small ways and every small act of kindness goes further than you may think.

Laura T. says …

Whole Trade products are important to me because I know that the workers are receiving fair wages and working conditions for their hard work!

Ida Friedman says …

I am so happy to know that there is an option to making other companies richer, ones who only care about lining their own fat pockets. When I can purchase a product that has good ingredients, that won't give me cancer, but if good for me, and then that product is also produced by people with love in their hearts and their hands, that raises the vibration of the product, and the planet. I am so grateful I can be part of a solution, not part of a problem. I would love an opportunity to try many different Allafia products. The ones I have tried, I love.

Sara S. says …

I use Alaffia Hair Lotion on my daughter's hair for two years. It makes her hair feel wonderful and smell great! It is important to me to buy free trade product to know my money is going toward helping and empowering other people.

Jacelyn M. says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed products are important to me because I support all the efforts being made to better/aid West Africa's education & medical establishments. It is obvious that this company cares about people and is looking to make a positive difference where they can. I enjoyed reading this article and really have an appreciation for the "do-good" efforts that go behind Whole Trade Guaranteed products. I will continue to purchase Whole Trade Guaranteed products. Keep supporting those in need!

Susan Robbins says …

Fair trade helps people help themselves.

Emily Cernoia Barkley says …

Everyone is better off when buying fair trade--consumer and supplier both can respect and appreciate one another's humanity through fairly traded products. The market won't take care of everyone--we have to take care of each other!

Missy says …

I haven't tried these products, they look wonderful! To me, whole trade/fair trade is important..no product should come at the expense of others' well being.

Jill says …

I always choose a fairly traded product when I have the opportunity. To me, Fair Trade and Whole Trade mean that I am voting with my purchase for world-wide equality.

Derk Thomas says …

I can help people every week by just shopping.

Kim Russell says …

Every human being has the right to be treated fairly, with respect and dignity! I commend all efforts made to unify the world in this belief and daily prectice.

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