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

Shannon says …

We us Alaffia shampoo and conditioner. Fair Trade means people are treated as people. Anything else is disgusting.

Lori Louise Lawrence says …

It's important to me that my money goes where my mouth is -- in this case, to people instead of to anonymous corporations. Thanks for all your good work.

Kim says …

My daughter was born in Ethiopia five years ago. She's been home with us only four months and we want to support Africa and fair trade any chance we get

ann Muth says …

I think its a good thing to support fair wages for items made in countries that do not have protective laws for workers

Treva says …

The Whole Trade products are great not only for their wonderful (and minimal) ingredients but also because they are giving back to the communities that have so little. Each time I purchase our favorite Everyday Shea body wash I know that part of my money is helping to make a difference in other countries.

Laurie says …

I have never tried Alaffia's products. Fair Trade is important to ensure that workers can earn a fair wage for the work they put forward.

Gretchen says …

I started buying Alaffia because they were made in my home state and I loved the programs they created. It's nice to see how they've grown. I continue to look for new products and love helping them with their causes.

TANYA MORIN says …

I have not tried nor heard of these products, but I am intrigued and hope to win them. THANK YOU

Lace D says …

I love that the increasing awareness of fair trade is creating a greater availability of fair-trade products, and it's even better when it enriches people's lives with natural materials and does good for the environment! Perfect!

Meredith Clark says …

I think buying Fair Trade is important because we all deserve the opportunity to be safe, prosper and live a meaningful life!

Joan Viers says …

I love the fair trade - I love the cocoa butter - I have a skin graft and I need to keep it moist - so I use the cocoa butter - wonderful!

sandy says …

We need to support each other and the planet

Michelle Serrano says …

I use your products because I know they help take a step forward in making the world a better place!

Heather says …

Whole Trade is important to me because I believe everyone should be treated ethically in a way that maintains dignity.

Caitlin Leyden says …

I think that is it very important know know where the things that we used come from and if they are made in ways that we morally agree with. That's why I love fair trade items because I know that I'm not getting something that was made with someone's suffering.

karen hepp says …

Fair trade and organics are the only way to go if you want to feel good about what I'm spending my money on and puting on my skin

Bonnie Sullivan says …

I buy fair trade items whenever I can. I recently purchased jewelry made by African women. I want to support underprivileged women and children and their families whenever possible.

Barbara says …

Whole Trade should be important to people because Whole Trade practices are those which harm neither people nor the planet.

Gina Jonson says …

The more I learn about fair trade, the more I want to support every product that I can. It makes perfect sense to me! We are here to help each other. That's our sole purpose. We can do that even thousands of miles from each other, just by using our dollars and cents wisely. I know I will be!

Mrs. Joyce Randell says …

I enjoy and support giving back to countries that share their culture and way of life.

Heidi says …

All trades should be fair. Thank you carrying products of such integrity and quality and thank you to the people of Alaffia for making them.

Adele says …

I have not tried the products yet, but Whole Trade products are important because they support small communities and treat people fairly and ethically. It is simply the right thing to do.

Lynne says …

I am so glad to hear about these products. I will be trying some soon!

Sarah says …

What a wonderful story! I'll be looking for these products next time I shop - especially after all the positive reviews here!

Anna van Tonder says …

I love these products! The vanilla mint body wash is awesome! Id love to try the others.

Donna F. says …

I have not tried these products, but they look amazing! I prefer Whole Trade guaranteed products because they help make sure the workers are treated fairly, which inevitably influences the products they make.

Kris O says …

This article is wonderful; we must do our part to do the right thing and teach our children with words and example to do the same.

fran says …

Can't wait to try them, especially after reading the article.

Courtney says …

I love fair trade products, it's a small way to make a little bit more of a difference!

lori says …

haven't tried them yet, but would love to!

victoria biller says …

I only now buy fair trade products.

Carlota Bindner says …

I have known that EveryDay Shea, which is by far my favorite lotion, is Fair Trade but it is so amazing to read an article about the difference this is making in communities and individual lives. As I mentioned I use EveryDay Shea, and have not found a lotion that compares in its ability to leave my skin soft and moisturized and help fight off winter dryness. Thank you so much for this article.

Beverly Hansen says …

Whole Trade Guaranteed products are important, because the consumer is assured that fair working conditions and wages are being given to the tradespeople. This adds value to the final product(s) in my estimation.

Chrissy says …

I just recently tried the Alaffia conditioner and loved it. I try to use whole trade products because I know they only use the healthiest ingredients and help the communities rather than "big business" and corporate america- who really don't need my money.

Doreen says …

I haven't heard of these products-the article is very insightful and I will go to my local Whole Foods to check them out.

Caroline says …

These products are important to me because of the story behind them- truly touching!

nancy says …

I love it when I can find a product that I like that is fair trade!

Linda says …

I just finished reading your story, it is truly wonderful. I promise I will purchase your products this week!

yvette says …

i have used alaffia for many yrs. was introduced to it by friend who shared the story behind it immediately after sharing her lotion. tellif you share their products its impossible not to want to share the good its doing for people. well i support it yes because of the blessings this brings to many, but also because you will not be dissapointed with any of their products. lotions are very hydrating without being oily. and i also use the soap and coffee/black soap shampoo and conditioner. works great and makes scalp feel very clean without ripping any of the hair's oils. i see most difference in my skin from the lotions. great products!

Linda Noble Brown says …

Honestly, I have not tried these products as yet. But I think that giving these hard-working people a fair wage is oh so important. I would love to be introduced to these with a basket!

LauraT says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are important to me because we need to support farmers and workers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. I love how Whole Foods actively promotes these products. I really hope that i win the super gift package but if not I am going to look for the Alaffia products on my next whole Foods visit!

Susan says …

Everybody is entitled and deserves the right to earn a good living/fair wages. I support and purchase fair trade products and would love to win the chance to try these.

laura says …

I am always impressed by the determination, and strength of people that live in underprivledged countries. They live simply, honestly and their products reflect that. I love the Alaffia products.

Debra Meyer says …

While growing in awareness of the challenges to thrive faced by women and children in developing nations I have been grateful that I can find Whole Trade products to both; end my contribution to the oppression of women and children through my purchases and to enjoy quality products that benefit women and children in developing nations. Thank you!

bonnie says …

It's important for global balance and economic strength to support fair trade products. People should not be exploited and be paid a fair and decent wage so they can prosper and become part of the solution.

Michelle Wei-Chiun DeCarlo says …

Whole trade products are important to me b/c I have been given the gift of living in a prosperous country and I want to steward my money to improve humanity not further exploit it.

MRS. LORI STANEK says …

I USE THESE PRODUCTS BECAUSE MY CHILDREN "LOVE" THESE PRODUCTS! MY SON WHOSE #10 LOVES THE LAVENDER PUMP SOAP! AND, MY #8 YR. OLD DAUGHTER LOVES THE SHAMPOO! WE JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF THE ALAFFIA PRODUCTS! NEVER CAN GET TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING! MY SON LOVES THE FACT THAT THE SOAP SMELLS "AMAZING", AND EVERY TIME PEOPLE COME OVER TO THE HOUSE, HE TELLS THEM ABOUT HOW GOOD THE SOAPS WILL MAKE YOUR HANDS SMELL!

nicole says …

Now that i have background info, i will be on the lookout for these products.Fair trade is important and my college campus is trying to use 100% fair trade products.

Jamie says …

Whole trade and fair trade products are important to me and my family because we want to support fair business practices and help those around the world to be treated fairly so that they can build their communities. Also, good and healthy products like Alfalfa's are best for my family. I'm glad whole foods participates in such programs and carries these products.

Lifeislikeapearl says …

Inspiring! I had tried some of your products. Loving them! All I can say is that God truly bless you all for helping other people oversea becaue they totally faced their obstacles since they couldn't do anything to move on or improve their community. Impossible! They only can do that by getting help from us on the other side of the planet. That's what God wants us to do by thinking of others before ourselves. Alaffia is an unique company that makes all shoppers thinks twice about life, puts an impact on them to help others and make a better difference on this planet. That's called unconditional love. Bless you, Alaffia team, for making the difference in their lives and ours, too!

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