Whole Story

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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

Cate says …

I like this product and support what they are doing to build stronger communities.

Ann says …

Thank you Whole Foods for supporting Alaffia!

Darla Thompson says …

Wow. I have used Alaffia's products before, but I had no idea about the connection to providing medical care to women. Amazing how we really are globally connected and decisions to support companies that are committed to local communities means that what we buy impacts other people's lives in surprising ways.

katrina says …

I love being able to support other people in getting a better life.

Sandra says …

I am glad that by my shopping at WF it is going to a good cause.

ma says …

it's important to purchase responsibly and help out in any way we can

Keli says …

It's time for people to realize that people are behind the products we buy; with the absurdly cheap price of an item comes the unjust misery of a laborer on the other end. When you buy something that is Whole Trade Guaranteed, you know that you are supporting another person that is just like you- working for a living- and you have the piece of mind knowing that their wages are fair.

Irene Gamarnik says …

I've used Alaffia conditioner for the first time today. My hair feels so alive! Thank you for the great product and your charity work!

Tamika says …

Buying whole trade products is important to me because it lets me know that the manufacturers are not only concerned with their profits but are also concerned with helping people live better lives. These are the kinds of companies we need.

Melissa O. says …

Will always support those who what to help themselves :D Also these products are wonderful.:D

Alison says …

By providing a quality of life by making a beautiful product with natural resources.

Tristen says …

I havent personally tried their products yet but what an amazing cause. I am def. going to try them now and suppport their mission.

YN says …

For Alaffia and Whole Trade Guaranteed products, I find it refreshing to see people work so hard to help those in need. Please continue working hard to spread the word about your cause so more people can be aware.

Linda Barnett says …

~~truly inspiring. Kudos to Whole Foods for supporting this Project.

Mary O'Neil says …

Excellent work!

Carrie says …

I am happy to know that the products I buy are helping people rather than harming them.

Chris says …

Whole trade products support local economies, and when we buy them it shows support for locals,for those that are personally involved in the products and for economies in the developing and third worlds.

tabitha says …

This is a great story of someone using their profits to truly help people with real needs, and not just push a political agenda. Bravo!

Carol Avery says …

I buy whole trade to 'be the good' we all want for the planet.

Megan says …

I try to buy whole trade when I can so that I can support the workers/environment.

Lynn says …

It makes me proud to read about the initiatives that Whole Foods supports. These products and their stories are important ones!

Jody says …

I first found out about Alaffia products while traveling a few years ago. I was very impressed about how they give back to the community, and help women. I have been using their products ever since. It's great that Whole Foods is spotlighting them. It helps to bring more awareness to he issues women in these communities face.

Melissa M. says …

Products like these are important to me in supporting because I like to help/support communities and programs such as these. Because of this, my family is becoming more community orientated and more green. If something we consume/purchase is not produced in the US, as a family we make sure it is supporting others who truly need it.

Kyla says …

We ARE our neighbors therefore we need to make a commitment to each other. That is why Whole Trade products are important.

Kristy M says …

Knowing where our food and products come from, that personal care was used in processing, and that money spent goes to deserving families is the key to being human. I support fair trade for these resons and more. Keep up the good work WF!

Diana says …

I really love the Every Day Shea lavendar lotion. So does my husband! I haven't tried any of the other products. I didn't know that by purchasing the product, I was supporting World Trade. I am happy to do so and will continue.

calleen says …

Whole foods knows Fair Trade, they look for products that are clean inside and out for the body and environment. Thank you.

Sony Trieu says …

Fair Trade is the only way to shop. It allows me to feel humble and grateful for the opportunity to make a conscious choice in how my spending dollars can help others in need. I am so please to see Whole Trade at Whole Foods. It makes good "cents" to me to shop with compassion and mindfulness.

Shirleycg says …

So glad Whole Foods does so much to support the global community in need - which in turn produce products from nature - not laden with man-made chemicals - and which practice ethical trade, earth-friendly farming and are of the highest quality - all attributes of Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products. Hats off to Alaffia for striving to reduce poverty and bring about gender equality and better wages and working conditions for employees and suppliers.

Julia says …

If the organisms involved in the production of your product are treated well, the product will treat you well!

Alison says …

It's important to me to buy products that meet certain standards whenever I can. I do not want to support poor environmental or employment practices.

Candice says …

Thank you so much for sharing this insprional story I am proud to use these products.

erin says …

Whole trade is important because I feel better knowing that I am using a product that comes from something positive.

Nick says …

My wife would love these.

Marie says …

I was able to shop last week at Whole Foods and was amazed. I do not drive and could have spent hours n hours - well all day maybe, just going up and down the isles - reading and checking everything out. I did pick up some pamphlets and a newletter plus have signed on here to find out more information yet I have a long way to go in learning more. It is wonderful!

April G. says …

Any and all projects that help people and women gain equal footing in this world is important. Baby steps lead to bigger steps! All of us who are lucky enough to live in areas where we have advantages need to do our part to help Pay It Forward :)

Chloe says …

I love Alafia's products--and their work in Africa. This is very close to my heart as I set up workshops in Guinea that benefit youth and artists there. Peace

helen says …

Whole Foods seems to always do the right thing in supporting great causes...Thanks for making us aware of Alaffia. Makes me appreciate what we have - and am humbled by their initiative.

Keri A. says …

I love that I can support a community with a passionate cause while I take great care of myself. :)

Mackenzie says …

I know when I use WTG products that I can trust the source. I strongly believe in trying to help others less unfortunate, I'm glad corporations like whole foods has taken the initiative, plus, It gives me one more reason for me to support Whole Foods

Erin M says …

I have been using Alaffia face creams the last year, because they are fair trade, made of natural ingredients, and come in glass (not plastic) containers. Each of these aspects is important to me. But I am especially gratified to read about the specific projects that these products support; I think such details help bring the impact to life, rather than being abstract. Thank you for this~

Shireen says …

Thank you for letting us know that our purchasing can make a difference. Knowing the story of the compassion and conscience that goes into these products makes me proud to use them and I will think of these beautiful people each time.

Susanne says …

I haven't tried these products yet, but I will definitely seek them out now. I am always into supporting these types of companies/businesses in order to help others have an opportunity to thrive and have something positive influence their lives.

Erika says …

Why buy anything else when the option exists to help these women?

Dr KAZ says …

I love buying Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products because of a triple win. i get great products, they get to support themselves and teach their children to support themselves and the store who sells the products has an ethical high quality product to offer clients.

Lysiane says …

Reading the stories brought tears to my heart ... We must learn and share . Brilliant !

ErikaM says …

Always inspiring to see women being given the means to support themselves.

robyn says …

Offering these types of products inspires me to purchase them knowing that it makes a differance in a women or childs life

Jan says …

It is always great to hear about the good that happens in today's world. what an awesome way in which to empower these women, by giving them the opportunity to produce goods, that in turn will help the community. My next trip to Whole Foods will definitely be to support the cause by trying the products.

Vel Hopkins says …

I believe it is very important to not only support local business, but extending that support to the global economy is very beneficial.If everyone works together, we can create a mission to support each other, and feel good about contributing our piece of the worldly love that we are so in need of! It is our GOD given right to be happy and loving . Peace and Blessings abound! Vel Hopkins

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