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

michele says …

How fab to buy shea and help whole communities at the same time!

Victoria says …

Many of us don't realize how much a business like this can change an entire community. Women become empowered, children get educated, and families become more stable because of businesses such as Alaffia. Great Work!

Brittany says …

I haven't tried their products yet but what a GREAT CAUSE. This is what I love, people see a need and they do the best they can to fill it, getting support along the way. Our world - our New York community! - needs more people like this. It takes courage but it takes a lot more DETERMINATION and prioritization!

Patricia Maccaro says …

Each time I make a purchase I vote for what I believe in. Buying fair trade products is a a win-win, as we support folks we will never see, and benefit from their chemical free products. After reading about Allafia products I can't wait to try them. The folks who work so hard to establish these business models are surely creating good karma, now and in the future.

Jeanne Nix says …

Having a product that is fair to everyone is important. No one should starve and live in sub standard conditions to provide for others.

Andrea says …

I have not tried Alaffia products, but would like to after this very inspiring story!

Sandy says …

I love Everyday Shea and gave some to my neighbors who were looking for a good quality and reasonably price Shea lotion. I will look for the coconut lotion this week. I use it every day, all over my body, and appreciate the subtle fragrance and how it makes my skin feel. This story was so moving. Bless Alaffia for the work they are doing. It's nice to know a product I enjoy so much is doing so much good.

Patricia says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to me because I know that workers and communities are being treated fairly and benefiting in such a way that their dignity remains intact.

Vicki says …

I will look for these products now that I know more about them. I always look for fair trade goods; all people deserve a fair wage and safe living conditions. In addition, the projects that have been undertaken are stunning and one more reason to support this company.

Ronda Barnhurst says …

I love the Everyday Coconut Lotion. I have vitiligo and it is the only lotion that doesn't bother my skin. I used to just put it on the areas of discoloration, but now I am slathering it on my legs and upper arms too. Having not heard the story of how these products began and what good they do, makes me even happier to be a customer. May the blessings of God be upon you and your people to move forward in good health.

Sienna O. says …

I love the conditioner and am excited to try some of the other products.

Jasmine says …

I've been meaning to try these. Whole Trade products are good because they are products that I like and want to use (good for me and the environment) but they also benefit the people that make them.

Anne says …

Fair trade is important and I will buy the products. They sound superior to most.

Mary says …

Thanks for letting us know about this product and the good that is being done. And thanks for stocking it in your stores.

Amy Harrison says …

I look forward to using Alaffia products in the near future--for one because I love the benefits of shea butter and coconut on my skin, but more importantly to support the work of this cooperative now that i have been made aware of it. I was first drawn in to read this article by the beautiful pictures of the Toga people creating and being empowered by these products. Now that i know of the community service initiatives, particularly the push to end excision for West African women, I will seek out the Alaffia brand at Whole Foods Market and other retailers.

Linda S. says …

Thank you, Whole Foods, for your support of Fair Trade. It's important that we give everyone the chance at a life that has purpose and meaning.

Thuc Ng says …

I have not used Alaffia products in the past but after reading this post I will. The skincare products look amazing and at the same time, it is for a good cause which is to lead West African communities out of poverty.

Aimee says …

Wow! I am just amazed at how much Olowo-n’djo Tchala and his wife have done to help so many persons! Just amazing! I have never seen these products, but, I am going to Whole Foods tomorrow and I definitely will search for them. I do use raw Shea Butter on my face and is just amazing, so, I know that these products will be superb for me. Thanks, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, for all the compassionate work you do... Aimee

Caroline says …

Will look for it the next time I'm in the store ! Thank you !

Nancy says …

I have never used this product but I am so in tune with helping people in African countries. I work for a ministry that works with nationals to minister to the inmates in their prisons. Many inmates in other countries are very poor and many need just basic items to live. We have so much here in the US. And many do not realize that we are blessed with so many things!

Nola Fine says …

No, I have never tried these products. I would like to though.

Carolyne Moore says …

This is an incredible article. It is so important to use and support fair trade products, and to shop at stores that help support them. I will buy Alaffia Shea lotion on my next to Whole Foods.I love to hearing all the good things this great man has done to improve things in Africa.

Kiyo says …

What an amazing company! After reading this story I am impressed and humbled by the impact our dollars spent can have. I am not familiar with this product but would love to try it. Not all of us are called to run a company like Alaffia, but we can support great companies like it and thereby participate in it's mission. Great Job Alaffia!

Daisy Pate says …

I have just recently tried the vanilla coconut body wash. I love it, and came here to read more. These stories have brought tears to my eyes. It is a beautiful thing Alaffia is doing in Africa. I am especially touched by the support of midwives, and in education about the problems with Female Genital Mutilation. Please keep up the wonderful work. I will be trying more products soon!

Kim Mesman says …

Great story...I honestly have never tried these products but will look at whole foods next time I am in and check them out. However, I always read ingredients in beauty products, lotions, etc and good to find products with quality ingredients. Thanks for sharing this story.

April R. says …

I think this is such an important issue that more people need to know about. I truly believe in giving a hand up not a handout.

Debbie says …

knowing where your products come from is VERY important. sad story, but the products look amazing!

Leigh says …

Fair trade products are the only products I will buy. I can't think of a better way to support the people and communities that make these great products!

Gail says …

Love this program, and the baskets are beautiful!

Adam G says …

Free trade products allow those that make them or contribute to them receive what they deserve regardless of where they live.

Kim N. says …

I am glad for the work you are doing. I will look for your products on the shelves. I believe in supporting those who give back to the community. Thanks.

Erin says …

I have not tried these products, but I think that fair trade is very important. I'd love to win!

Sylvia says …

I look for Whole Trade products whenever I can. It's important as consumers to make shopping decisions that have beneficial impacts all around. Gratefully it is getting easier to make these decision thru better labeling and guarantees that we know we can trust.

Gabi Krauss says …

I would love to try the product. I like using products where i know the company doesn't just go for profit and cares also about under what circumstances the ingredients were harvested, bought etc... Also, consumers should be able to put just natural ingredients on their skin without having to study chemistry for being able to read the labels. The more natural the ingredients the easier it is to understand the label.

Michelle says …

I have never used or heard of this product before but will now keep an eye out for it next time I am in Whole Foods. I am glad that there are companies out there who actually care about the wellbeing of others as opposed the wellbeing of themselves. There are still some good people in the world and would love nothing more than to contribute to a good cause.

Deedy Clark says …

I have not tried this products, but will look them when I visit Whole Food store again. I also hope some samples will be available.

Karen says …

I love that the sale of these products helps someone truly in need. They are beneficial to the person who purchases them by truly allowing them to help someone else. I am looking forward to purchasing these products in the near future.

Margaret Gabriele says …

Have not tried,but will definitly look for them the next time I'm in Whole Foods.

Kai says …

After reading this blog entry, I went out and bought the vanilla mocha body lotion. It's wonderful, and now that I know just how much you folks are doing for the women of West Africa, I'll be checking out more of your products--especially the facial care line. Thank you for what you do!

Stephanie V. says …

Believe in fair trade to support good company practices - in other countries. Abuse of power on those without must stop and by buying fair trade products one helps to support the cause.

Christopher Sorel says …

have not tried but like what they are doing. Will check them out for sure. Whole Trade means good products helping people get out of poverty and rise them up.

Claudia says …

I find this concept of products from all over the world working to improve a community a wonderful idea. The products are made with love and care and gives people s sense of pride in their work and that they are helping their community. I would love to sample these products.

Teresa Cangiano says …

I have never tryed there products and given the chance to do so. Would help me appreaciate what whole trade is all about and the benefits of helping others to acheive there goals.

Shayna says …

I have used the Everyday Shea soap since it arrived in my local Whole Foods, and when the store started carrying Everyday Coconut, I had to give it a try. Both products are fantastic, and now I'm hooked on the Everyday Coconut lotion. I know my purchase of Alaffia products helps support truly good work, but this article is a mind-blowing reminder that the choices we as consumers make -- especially consumers in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet -- have a tremendous and far-reaching impact for individuals and communities in desperate need of basic resources. Our choices help make a HUGE difference for other people. What's not to love about Alaffia and other Whole Trade products? They're about people, not profits. This is really the icing on the cake, as Whole Trade products tend to be outstanding anyway! Thank you for all you do, Alaffia, and thanks Whole Foods, for carrying this line and other Whole Trade products.

Claire says …

These look like great products and a great cause!

stephanie t says …

I have not tried them. Fair trade products are setting an example to others of which our country was built on, trading. Giving everyone a chance to market their wares ~ and earning money to support their families.

A says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed makes for a better world!

Elise O. says …

I've never tried the Alaffia products, but I am so inspired and moved by the heart behind them. I am delighted to support organizations such as these, and would love to try out their products.

Cheryl says …

I can fully support this.

K says …

Ensuring that people who produce receive reasonable wages is a priority.

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