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Alaffia: Body Care that Empowers Women

Olowo-n’djo Tchala is the Founder and Director of Alaffia. Alaffia is a US-based company that makes body care products using shea butter sourced from West Africa. Fair Trade by IMO, Alaffia 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.

Alaffia is offering a special gift to one of our lucky readers. Read on. UPDATE: Thank you to everyone that entered. Congratulations to our randomly chosen winner, Brenda C.!

Dear Whole Foods Market customers,

I would like to share with you the impact that your purchase of Alaffia skin and hair care products are bringing to communities in West Africa. With a simple purchase you are helping the cause of gender equality and empowering women in disadvantaged communities. And most importantly, you are helping preserve the dignity of our communities because the benefits come from their own efforts, not from handouts. This is the true process of empowerment.

How We Began

Before I start, I would like to share with you a brief history of Alaffia. It began when I met my wife, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in my home country of Togo in 1996. When I joined her in the US shortly afterward, I came with only a 6th grade education. With the humbling opportunity to continue my education that America provided me, I studied hard and made it to the University of California, Davis when I earned my Bachelor of Science degree. It was around this time, in 2003, that I realized that my communities in West Africa did not need handouts to rise out of poverty, they needed to be compensated a fair price for their resources and knowledge. Women like my mother who cannot read or write need to have the opportunity to participate in the economic process.

The Growth of a Cooperative

With this conviction, I returned home to Togo and established a women’s cooperative to produce shea butter following traditional methods.

In 2003, we began with 50 women, and today Alaffia provides for more than 500 women cooperative members and more than 4,000 families that collect shea nuts. These numbers are possible, in part, because of Whole Foods Market customers. It was not until 2006 when Whole Foods Market began carrying Alaffia body care products that we were able to substantially increase the membership at our cooperative.

In addition to increasing membership at the co-op, we have also greatly increased our support of the people collecting shea nuts. Shea nuts are collected by the poorest communities and individuals in Togo. For the past 100 years, collectors have been forced to accept whatever price they are offered for their resource. Our fair trade price and training programs are proving opportunity and advancement to women in our communities.

Last December, during my visit to Togo, I was honored to meet and speak with Amama Amadou, the president of the Bowouda Shea Nut Collective. “Before coming to buy shea nuts, Alaffia invited us to give the market price, and then Alaffia added 20% to this price. Everyone received her own receipt and money for her own nuts. We sold over seven tons of shea nuts to Alaffia, and together we have saved over 400,000 fcfa ($1,000 US),” Ms. Amadou shared. She continued, “In the past, we got paid little by little for each bowl that we had. Today, the buying process is organized, and everyone gets their whole payment at once. I thank you and I plead you to continue your support in our village in order to reduce poverty. This year, thanks to the 20%, every one of us has paid the school fees for our children. We thank you very much for the support you have given to the women of Bowouda. You will be blessed for your efforts.”

Our Maternal Health Project

Furthermore, your purchases enable Alaffia to conduct our many important community projects, including our bike, schools, reforestation and gender equality projects. But I am most touched by our maternal health project, and most critically, our project concerning female genital mutilation. It is a sobering fact that if Alaffia had not funded prenatal care for 700 women last year, at least 44 mothers would have died.

One of the women we supported is Hodalo Katakouna. Hadoalo and her husband are farmers with four children. They have a tiny two-room house made of mud bricks. Hodalo shares one room with her husband and children and her elderly mother lives in the second room. Hodalo’s firstborn was paralyzed during birth. She lives 30 km from the nearest health clinic and with only a bicycle she was not able to reach the clinic in time for a safe birth. Similarly, her second child is mentally disabled due to lack of oxygen during birth. Last year, Hodalo participated in the Alaffia maternal health program — which among many services includes covering health care costs, supplying clinics with sterile medical equipment and providing transportation to patients — and she now has a healthy baby girl.

What touched my heart is not just her healthy baby, her big smile, and her many expressions of gratitude despite her hardships. It was also her story of how she had only one set of clothing which she wore to the farm and market and washed at night. With Alaffia supporting this pregnancy, she was able to save enough money to buy a second outfit for the first time in five years.

Now in our 10th year, it is clear to me that with the opportunity Whole Foods Market gives us to make our product available, we can truly lead our communities out of poverty while providing healthier products for families in America. While I know that poverty alleviation and economic justice will not be achieved during our lifetime, I know that fair trade is a path for disadvantaged communities to get out of poverty.

I feel it is our duty and our calling to build on the freedoms that many before us have fought and given their lives for and we can add to the human journey in the hope that future generations can build on what we do, so that one day all people and countries will live in peace.

I humbly thank you for your continued caring and support.

In appreciation of our customers’ support of Alaffia’s mission, Olowo-n’djo is giving away a handwoven African grass basket filled with Alaffia products -- worth about $140! -- to one of our lucky readers. Just tell us about your favorite Alaffia product and why you love it, in the comments below. If you haven't tried Alaffia yet, tell us why buying from a company with a larger mission is important to you. Leave your comment by Mother's Day, Sunday, May 12 to be entered to win.

Do you have a favorite Alaffia product, tell us about it or share how Alaffia's mission resonates with you.

The fine print: No purchase necessary. Promotion ends May 12, 2013, 11:59 PM CDT. 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.