This post comes to us from Olowo-n’djo Tchala, Founder of Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care. Olowo-n’djo grew up in poverty in Togo, Africa, and has dedicated his life to empowering communities in Africa. Here, Olowo-n’djo writes about his most recent trip to Togo. I would like to begin by thanking all of you that have either directly or indirectly supported us and made our projects possible. It is clear that without your support, our commitment to bettering lives in Togo would not be possible. My main intentions for this post are to thank all of you for your support and to take the opportunity to tell you about my most recent trip to Togo and Ghana. Son of Alaffia cooperative member dances as part of ceremony honoring the cooperative and its efforts in central Togo communities. This was a deeply emotionally challenging trip, primarily due to the state of human condition and a testing of my commitment. Two weeks before I left for Togo on September 3, 2008, Togo was hit with major monsoon rains. The flooding that followed displaced more than 20,000 families, destroyed countless fields, and washed out a large bridge on the main north-south road – cutting off supplies and fuel to Togo and countries to the north. Escalating fuel and food costs had already put a strain on local economies, and these floods have made it even more difficult for families to feed themselves. With food a primary concern, families are not able to even think about the expense of sending their children to school. Before the huge increases in fuel and food prices, school was already a huge expense for the majority of Togolese families. Now, it has become even more difficult for them. Line of vehicles waiting to pass over temporary bridge put up after flood waters destroyed the main bridge on Togo’s north-south highway. Seeing the devastation in Togo caused by a combination of natural and economic disasters has only strengthened my resolve to improve conditions in my communities. The recent global economic crisis has only increased my commitment to continuing our community empowerment projects, since the impact is greatest on the world’s poorest. I scheduled my visit to Togo in September to coincide with the arrival of the three containers of bicycles that we shipped in July. However, upon my arrival, the shipping company informed me that the containers had been delayed. They finally arrived after I had already returned to the U.S. This changed the focus of the trip to our education and health projects. With the help of the cooperative members, we built and donated table-benches to three extremely impoverished schools, donated school supplies to over 100 families in flood-affected areas, and visited the 40 women who are recipients of this year’s Fousena Fund for prenatal care. We also decided to sponsor a teacher for one village who had come together to build a school, but could not afford the salary for a teacher. Olowo-n’jdo Tchala with the school and government officials at Koloumi for desk donations. As part of our follow-up and to prepare for the arrival of this year’s bicycles, we met with past and future recipients of bicycles. The chief of Kinizao, one village that received bicycles from our previous shipment, remarked that teenage pregnancy is down in his village since girls were given bicycles. Students, too, read letters of appreciation for the bicycles, explaining how the bikes have helped them to continue and excel in school. One great positive of this trip to Togo was to see how the Alaffia shea butter cooperative has empowered its members and their communities. Even in this time of economic difficulty, the cooperative members are able to feed their families, pay for school, and continue saving in their microcredit program. We were honored with a ceremony put on by over 15 villages – where cooperative members, village chiefs and community members expressed their thanks with dances and speeches. We are continually receiving requests to set up cooperatives in other areas of Togo, and met with various organizations producing handicrafts, coffee, and other indigenous goods. We hope to incorporate some of these into Alaffia in the near future. During his visit, Olowo-n’djo met with this year’s recipients of the Fousena fund prenatal care. These community projects continue only with the financial support of Alaffia customers and retailers who purchase Alaffia products. With each purchase, you directly support the salaries and empowerment of the members of our cooperative as well as our community projects. Some of you have also donated directly for special projects, especially for our donations to families affected by the September floods. Recipient of school supplies donated by Alaffia. Over 20,000 families were forced from their homes by monsoon flooding in September. Flood waters were receding, but the destruction was still evident. Thank you very kindly for these donations and your continued support of our products. I plan to return to Togo within the next six months for the distribution of the bicycles, and I will bring you more updates then. Peace, Olowo-n’djo Learn more about how fairly traded, handcrafted Shea Butter benefits the communities that produce it as well as the communities that purchase it.