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

Sandra saenz says …

Always looking to support a good cause. By the way, I love this product!

Jessica says …

I love supporting anything that empowers women and helps communities in countries that don't have the same opportunities that we have here. It's great to have a store that makes these products easily accessible, and makes it easy for us to make a small difference.

Peggy says …

Buying fair trade changes our world one person at a time...pay it forward! :)

Hannah says …

Have never heard of this company/org before. But, I'm interested in finding out more about them.

Mica says …

It's nice to not have to research everything and to know that Whole Foods has done that for you.

Karen says …

My family has been using the shea butter lotion and shower gels for well over a year now, because they are natural products, and work well. I have to admit that if there's a comparable choice, I will pick the fair trade product over others, but cannot always afford the price tag. I had no idea, but now I am so pleased to hear that our use has been supporting such a worthy cause. I was going to definitely continue using Alaffia products, and now I'll do it with a little more pride.

Stacie Anne Strittmatter says …

Helping others is a good way to help the world we live in become a better place.

Beth McLean says …

We are are so wealthy compared to most of the world. It is important to buy fair trade so that workers earn a wage that can support their families. It is wonderful to read all of the good that comes from supporting this company and buying their products! I will definitely look for these products next time I am in the store.

jess says …

I love alaffia products and their mission. The products support great causes, and they are safe for ky whole family to use. Thank you whole foods for carrying them and thank you Alaffia for creating such great products and doing it in a way that benefits everyone.

Kristen says …

I have not tried these products before but I admire what Whole Foods stands for in stocking them.

Seraiah says …

I love Alaffia's products both for hair and body. I see growth in my hair, and while getting excess weight off of my body, the products are helping with getting rid of stretch marks! I am glad I gave my bike to help those in need in Togo! Continued success to you and the company!

Danielle says …

It is important that the money I spend on products goes to the people who made the products rather than all of it going to the middle man/woman. I support fair trade and direct trade in all areas.

Lauren says …

Many conveniences are bad for you. So much of WF's labeling -- heck, the trust of everything they have selected to sell -- is convenience done right. Ethical choices made easy!

Kristi H says …

I would much rather buy Whole Trade guaranteed products and know that our neighbors are treated and paid fairly for their work!

betsey beaven says …

As a team member of whole body- whole foods I can personally say that over and over again customers come back and tell me how much they love allafia products and their vision. It's hard to find a company with such amazing integrity too. I thank everyone associated with this wonderful company and it's beautiful leader.

deb says …

I have never tried the products, but support the effort to help women in Africa. This is such a worthy cause and I honor Whole Foods for their support.

Karen Wright says …

I HAVE TRIED WHOLE TRADE PRODUCTS BEFORE AND WHAT COMES TO ME FIRST IS THE PURITY AND EFFICACY OF THESE PRODUCTS. THE SMELL IS VERY NATURAL RATHER THAN ARTIFICIAL OR SYNTHETIC. I AM GLAD TO SUPPORT THE POOREST OF NATIONS THAT CAN STILL PRODUCE AND GIVE BACK IN SOME BACK. THIS IS THE REWARD BACK TO THEM. GOOD PRODUCTS WITH HONEST LABEL AND INTENT BEHIND IT! CUDOS TO YOU ALL THE WAY AROUND THE WORLD.

Dana G says …

what a great idea! I look forward to trying these.

Laura Cartledge says …

So many troubling things that go on in this world. Many years ago I read an article about a model from Africa and have never forgotten what it said, it was such an impact. Before she became a model, she was from Africa and the time came for her to be excision (female circumcision). But she and her mother made plans for her to run away. She ran like a doe because if she was caught she would have been beaten. It was truly a miracle that she went as far as she did. She was barefooted running through and on rocks, etc. She passed out from exhaustion and yet no wild animal came near her. I don't recall the part where and how she made it to London but she did. It turned there were some relatives that worked for the embassy where she was from. She thought she would be safe being with relatives but she wasn't. They treated her badly and as a housekeeper. It's almost like a Cinderella story, but she was discovered by one of her relatives acquiantances and that's when she started her modeling career. She spoke about the terrible pain these women endure. They go through this ritual because the men require it of the women. So that when they lay with them they are tight. It's a sick custom. Some women can die from infection from the circumcision. Thank God there is someone trying to help these women and the community. I will certainly look for the products the next time I am in Whole Foods soon!

Donna says …

I would love to try these products.

Cindy says …

I love Alaffia lotions, and supporting a great cause by purchasing these products is a terrific bonus.

carrie obrien says …

Whole Trade is important, as it insures fair wages to those who toil to provide us wit the products we take for granted.

Abigail says …

I love that Whole Foods supports Fair Trade. I look forward to trying these great products.

Lee says …

I believe in fair trade or Whole Trade though I did not know of Alaffia before this affecting blog. I look forward to checking oout their product line to help support their good work.

Rebecca d says …

I have been a frequent shopper at whole foods now for about one year. It started with finding the all natural products in the health and beauty dept. I've actually tried a few of these products to date. The bubble bath is amazing I really enjoy giving to the much needed causes and also helping local suppliers by purchasing at whole foods. My favorite place now. I would love to win this basket and try out more products and learn more about this charity !! My fingers are crossed. PLEASE PICK ME. ;)

Amy says …

I'd love to try the Alaffia products. I really try to support whole trade products when buying products from foreign countries. I like to know my money is supporting good projects worldwide!

Eugenie says …

I'm glad to shop at a place and to buy products that supports such important work. I will look for Alaffia products the next time I'm at Whole Foods.

Ava Fedorov says …

This is truly inspiring... it's nice when beauty products carry a true depth of beauty and help to keep the world beautiful and protect the beautiful people who live here. A great way of giving back. THanks for the story!

Alethea Smartt says …

I am proud to support Alaffia's mission by purchasing their products at Whole Foods. Thank you, Whole Foods, for spreading the word about Whole Trade vendors!

Margaret Lethbridge-Cejku says …

One of the reasons we shop at Whole Foods is the opportunity to buy fair trade (Whole Trade) products, and to support life changing initiatives like the Alaffia projects. Next time I buy their skin care products, I'll be glad to know more about the great work they are doing. Kudos to WF for their support of such enterprises!

Jennifer Hilsabeck says …

I love Alaffia's products and use them both on myself and on my children. I learned about these amazing Whole Trade Guaranteed products as a result of Whole Food's commitment to ensuring that only the most environmentally conscious and community supportive products are sold on their shelves. Being a loyal consumer of these products is vitally important to me because in so doing, I am empowered to do my part to help enrich the lives of those most in need and preserve our Earth's precious natural resources for generations to come.

aline says …

If you just took a survey on fair trade and what your company is doing or even many others that do, you will be surprised on how many people don't know. However, many people are buying your products and are helping this beautiful cause but without knowing it. If you can bring representatives to the stores who take the time to explain the process of buying these products while helping less fortunate people in the world, you will see that your sales will multiply. There are lots of caring people out there and I know so many of them will buy to help out. The only thing missing is the information that they need to know. Please know that I was one of these people and it was only after I learned what fair trade is all about, I changed my product buying completely. Thank you for listening.

Iwona says …

It makes me feel better to support such a wonderful project.

Laura says …

I love shopping at Whole Foods. I appreciate the education I receive from their website and am willing to buy and try new products as these Whole Trade Guaranteed Products.

Melissa says …

It is important for me to know that the people who make the products I buy are paid a fair wage so they can support their families.

KarenHoward says …

Wow. They are doing a great job. It's nice to know they care about people & are helping them. I have not tried these products -but I would like to.

Margaret Connor says …

I will definitely look for these products when I am next at Whole Foods. What a great initiative!

Michelle D'Amico says …

I want to be sure the people creating and making the products are paid a living wage so they can feed their families and live comfortably at the same time. FAIR TRADE NOT FREE TRADE!!

Sue says …

I try to be a good consumer. I am REALLY picky about who gets that dollar. Are you earth friendly? Are you making a difference in the lives of others? I am willing to spend a little extra to know that the money that I spend is going to be used by good stewards of the earth. I will be looking for these products now. thanks for sharing the story and making me aware of new ways I can support the global good.

Virginia Schwicker says …

I have tried Alaffia product and especially like the raw Shea butter creme, Shea butter and Black soap shampoos as well as the conditioners. I try to buy fair trade whenever I can and will continue to support Alaffia's good work in Togo.

Jenny says …

I'd seen these products before but never purchased one. Now that I know the backstory, I will definitely support this company. Thanks for sharing!

Ivy says …

It is so important to support this initiative! I wish more people were involved.

Lynn says …

I love Alaffia products, especially the shea butter as my skin is very sensitive. And it is so wonderful what the organization does for women and the community. I feel great buying your products!

Lauren says …

I love Alaffia’s Everyday Shea body lotion. It is an excellent product, a good value, AND something that supports a great mission.

Gail says …

As a retired teacher and a friend of a teacher who was in Togo i the early 1970's with the Peace Corps I am proud and happy to see a continued interest in the lives of women and self reliance!

Sue says …

By supporting people who are less lucky than we are and samll business WE change, as Osho says “It is awareness that brings change, not your effort. Why does it happen through awareness? – because the awareness changes you. And when you are different the whole world is different. It is not a question of creating a different world, it is only a question of creating a different you. You are your world, so if you change, the world changes."

Amy says …

After living in Africa, in the Peace Corps, I'm glad Whole Foods is supporting these products!

michelle says …

These products are awesome and it feels even better to use something that is helping others!

Mel Smathers says …

Hello. I think supporting their mission is important becuase they should be able to earn a fair wage. We certainly in the US can afford to purchase their products and support them, they aren't more expensive than other brands. I support fair trade. Thank you. Mel

Ronan Vinson says …

I would love to try Alaffia shea butter.

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