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

Steve says …

This sounds like a good idea to me.

Carrie Elsass says …

I have never tried these products but am excited to after reading this article. I love the way Whole Foods is truly concerned with the health and well-being of the whole planet.

Melissa Potocnik says …

Have not tried these products. Fair Trade is important because more money goes to the folks making these items which helps to improve their life.

Myra says …

I have never heard of this brand. After reading the article I will definitely look for it in the store. Great projects!

Sheri says …

I just happened to have recently purchased Alaffia lavender Every Day Shea, and I love it. It was inspiring to read about what Alaffia is doing for the people of Togo. I'll continue to buy Alaffia products, not only because of the good work that they do, but because the products are great. Thanks Whole Foods for carrying these products and for featuring their story.

Maureen Davies says …

I have been using their products and just bought the body wash this week and love it. I am so pleased now to know exactly where the products are from and the benefit to the community there. Maureen

Shannon S says …

Whole trade is important to my family, especially Alaffia products because my husband is from Cameroon in West Africa and his family is still there. While I was living there I saw how much shea butter there was available and knew how much it is used in America. I am so glad to see that a collaborative has been formed to get the African communities the support they deserve.

Gail Schoppert says …

Whole Foods does great work with organizations like Allafia. I will certainly be trying these products. The stories of their works are inspiring.

Bernice says …

I will buy fair trade products because it makes me happy to do something for others less fortunate.

Tika Bordelon says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed products are important for so many reasons, but to me the most important is that it is the ethical and environmental concerns.

Rachael Starkovich says …

I think we have an obligation as people who live with privileges like clean water,"reasonably" honest jobs, and, for most of us, stable housing, to those who are not given those gifts so readily. By supporting small business, here at home and especially those small businesses abroad, we vote each and every time we purchase something with a voice that can not be denied: our dollars. Spend where it counts people! -R.

Gail says …

I haven't tried the products but I'm always trying new items at Whole Foods. I'm proud to support Whole Trade!!

Kathy says …

I haven't tried the products but after reading this I totallywill. I believe in fair trade and love to see we are creating a better future for all children

Nicole B. says …

If I see an item is Whole Trade, I'm very likely to purchase it - for myself or as a gift. It's important to only purchase what we need; however, I also want to cast my vote with every item I purchase. I support fair wage, life, community, and these women.

Arpita says …

I brought Allafia body lotion in lavender to go with Dr boonner lavender liquid soap for creating a relaxing bath. Honestly it took me a while to get use to it, since it was so light.I am used to heavy lotions, however it provided very good mositure which was surprising.my hubby liked it the very first time he used it... :) It was imp to us that the lotion had natural ingredients... It was a bonus to know that they practise fair trade.

Ginger Utterback says …

I will give these products a try. I learned so much from your article and I support your efforts!

Dawn Smith says …

I haven't tried these products but I certainly will. I am trying to make positive changes in my life that will have an impact on our world.

Lisa F says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important because I want to support these initiatives, involved people, and products.

Cristina says …

A truly inspiring story. Whole Trade products are important to me and my family because they empower communities to help themselves. If those of us living in the richest country in the world want to help others, we have to move away from paternalistic approaches and ask instead, "What do you need and how can we help you make it happen?" Empowerment can lead to true change and that is what Whole Trade can accomplish. Thank you Mr. Tchala and Whole Foods for your commitment to bettering the world we all share.

Lauren says …

I love Everyday Shea lotion and am glad to now learn it's production is supporting women and providing needed jobs.

Gail says …

Fair trade is so important! Everyone should receive honest pay for a days work. Let's cut out the greed and buy fair trade!

Debra says …

It is important to support these women and the fact that spending money on this versus another product will actually lead to their advancement is a huge reason to choose these products.

Ligia Vargas says …

Fair trade for all. Beautiful products.

Jenna says …

I love Alaffia because I've been trying to cut out synthetic and harsh ingredients in the products I use on my skin and hair. It hasn't always been easy, searching through all the ingredients at all the stores in which I shopped. But Alaffia I discovered Alaffia at my Whole Foods, and will continue to buy!

Stephanie says …

I had the pleasure of meeting Tchala and one of his staff at the Reston,VA Whole Foods Market. I was impressed by the range of products available and their mission. I use the shampoo and conditioner (Babies and Up) for my toddler, Antioxidant face cleanser and cream for myself and my husband uses the shea butter. I wish continued success to Alaffia and its mission. Thanks Whole Foods for providing such wonderful fair trade products.

Wilma says …

Shea Butter is good for skin and I like the quality of Alaffia products. It really matters to me how and where products are made.

Nicki says …

I would love the chance to try these products! I am very passionate about ecofriendly,natural and organic products. Especially when it's affordable.

Korrine Fraser says …

We are blessed to have to the luxuries and rights in America, such as education and many freedoms under the constitution that are not afforded to people in 3rd world countries. Alaffia's products represent the quality of products available from these countries that do not have the same opportunities that we do, however they still can compete in our market place, because they are just as talented and work hard for our business. Their ability to be treated fairly in our marketplace is not only what seems fair, but our ethical duty to not stand for less when using our purchasing dollars to show what we believe in and support in the world. That we believe, and vote with our dollars that everyone in the world should enjoy the rights and privileges that we take for granted in the Western developed world.

Adrienne Anderson says …

This is exactly why I shop at Whole Foods!!

Angela Heffner says …

I have not tried Allafia's products, but would love to. Fair trade is important to me because I like to know that my products were made in a safe environment by people that love what they do and get paid fairly for their labor!

Thelma Rodriguez says …

These products sounds absolutely amazing! I love using products containing Shea. The mission behind these products is very worthwhile, may they continue their good work.

Kevin N says …

I'm not often able to indulge in buying personal care products that are natural and come from fair trade sources. But I've found that when I do make the sacrifice, I benefit a great deal. Not only do I feel good knowing that the money I spend is making an impact in communities and providing people with an honest and decent living, but the products themselves are superior in quality to the chemical-filled stuff I sometimes buy.

Grace says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to me because I want to know that I am supporting environmentally responsible/friendly products. Thanks for the chance!

melissa says …

so good to give back!

D says …

Haven't heard of. Will watch for.

Marina says …

I love the Shea lotion and the fact they are fair trade and helping so much people in need.

Marilu says …

one with the universe. Thank you

chari says …

Whole Foods Guarantee makes me comfortable buying items that go on my skin or in my mouth. I am confident they have done the research.

Christine G says …

I haven't tried Alafia products, but they sound like great products. Fair Trade should be just that, not some corporate enterprise just looking to make a buck!

jess violette says …

don't need to think or do the research because you know and can trust the products are top notch!

Linda Gamsky says …

I have been using the Everyday Shea and Alaffia skin and hand products for some time. What attracted me to them is the fair trade sustainable choices information, the price and the fact that the products are great and feel good on my skin. I also like the fact that there aren't excessive ingredients in the products. I am thrilled that Alaffia really does care and this is not just about profit but about people. Thank you.

Rosalie says …

I have not tried Alafia products but I fully support their mission. The basket will give me a chance to try their products and possible become a customer for life.

LINDA MADSON says …

Love, love, love, the African Black soap. I recommend it to everyone. It has cleared up my dry skin, especially around my eyes and as a bonus it has also cleared up my eczema!

dawn says …

good products for a good cause~everyone wins!

Jo says …

I use the Beautiful Curls creme product on my ethnic (Latina) hair. I have tried many products to define mi rizos (my curls) and the soft finish of the Beautiful Curls defies humidity and the "crunchiness" of more synthetic curl products. I <3 the smell too!

Lisa says …

I love the fact that this fair trade product is being used to help so many people! Love, love, love!

Agnes says …

I have not tried these products but found through Global Girlfriends that Whole Food carries some great fair trade products and I would love to try these for my family.

Rachel says …

Everyone deserves fair compensation for their hard work! We can be better citizens of the world by supporting organizations that treat their workers with respect.

Anna B says …

I like fair trade products because it treats everyone in the world as equals, which is what we are. It's important for me to show my kids where their foods and products come from, not just "the store".

Ronda says …

Wonderful story and even more amazing products!

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