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

Lynne Kinsey says …

I will try these products, because it is the right thing to do. If they are scented I may not be able to use them and then I would donate them to one of the non-profit organizations with which I am affiliated.

Julia says …

Having lived and traveled in West Africa, I have seen firsthand some of the difficulties that Alaffia is working to alleviate. I love buying and using their shea butter products. The body wash is fantastic (I particularly love the vanilla mint) and their kids' products are great, too. Their unscented hand soap has also been great for my son, who has sensitive skin. Keep up the great work!

Amanda says …

I haven't had a chance to try these particular products, but I definitely support the mission! If only more companies would embrace the environmentally friendly practices that the Whole Trade program guarantees, I think we could solve quite a few national and international issues, and everyone would be happier in the long run...

Cricket says …

I love the Alaffia shea butter products and it is important to me to support the efforts of those attempting to make inroads in the difficult field of global health.

Cee says …

I love that the products come from small cooperatives...the products are super.

Emi says …

Love the Alaffia lotion.

kathleen chowanec says …

shea products are great on my skin. will look forward to buying them at Whole Foods!

Charla says …

I really appreciate the values behind these products. Thank you for your commitment to fair trade.

Sarah says …

Buying products that are fair trade irems is important to me! Love the shea lotion. :)

Stacie N says …

It's important because I know i am supporting people who are truly in need. It's a good feeling to know your giving back!! The products are great as well!!!

Stephanie Chandler says …

I have tried the beautiful curls shea butter activating cream and i love, love, love it! I have naturally curly hair and had to use some expensive "stuff" on my hair to keep the fizz away. The shea butter works to maintain them and work with the diffuser! I also like the rosemary oil, which is good for burnettes! After reading the story and what Alaffia is doing, I am even prouder for purchasing these products and thank you Whole Foods for doing all the work for us...meaning making it so I can shop freely without wonder of where and who made them and how they are being treated. Fair Trade is so important to support because it is just the right thing to do!! I really agree with Julia, #2 above. She said it well. Thank you and keep up all the great work and progress!

jo says …

I like natural products that are good to my skin and that they support underprivelaged areas makes them all the more wonderful.

Katie says …

LOVE everyday Shea products, not just because they're awesome, but because of what they stand for... Its great to know that the products I'm using are made by a company that stands for something I can be proud of

CMC says …

I have not tried the products yet. I'm glad Whole Foods carry them, it is a great organization!

Tanya Hall says …

The story is so inspiring. I would love to try Alafia.

liz purtell says …

I use Alaffia products because of their purity and absence of synthetic products.

Jess V says …

It's so sad that people are taken advantage of who have no voice of their own. That is why Whole Trade is so important. Companies like Alaffia give these people a voice and educate consumers about what they are buying. Looking forward to trying out my new purchase: Alaffia’s Beautiful Curls!

Melinda Trotti says …

Using my purchasing power to support such important endeavors always feels like the right thing to do

mary says …

love every day shea and honest products

Kelly says …

Excision!? I can't imagine why in the world this would ever be done... However, we in America are soooo blessed to have way more than we could ever need, and many things we don't even need! We really should show gratitude for what we have by trying our best to give to people who don't have even the things they need.

Tina Armstong says …

I had no knowledge of this product but I will be making a special trip to Whole Foods to make a purchase. After reading these stories I realize that everyone has a role to play and everyone has a responsibility to end world poverty. I will continue to play my part.

Noreen McGowan says …

It is important that my children see us buying products that are fair trade irems. Plus the shea lotion is so great for dry skin. We would like to donate to this cooperative. Thanks, Whole Foods/TTrade forhaving this product

Christine Hammersmith says …

I have not used these products before, but will definitely check them out! I think it is very important to be aware of where our products come from, what is in them, and how the people who make them are treated. When we purchase a product we are saying that, not only do we like the product, but that we agree with the practices and policies of the people/company that makes them. I think it is wonderful what Alaffia is doing for the women and children of west Africa and would be happy to purchase their products.

Rashmi says …

Wow, sounds like such an amazing project. Great for Whole Foods for supporting such an initiative! I have never tried these products but will look out for them.

Lauren says …

What a great organization! Would love to try their products.

Sara Ford says …

To be honest, I bought the Everyday coconut lotion because I liked the price. But after getting it home and reading the story behind Alafia fair trade I was really hoping to like the lotion. Well.....I've been using it for over a week and I love it! As a triathlete I'm always outdoors or in the pool, so I use lots like water. This lotion soaks in fast, but nourishes my skin all day! What a double blessing! Keep up the good work! Sara

cynthia says …

really great cause thanks for lending your hand and skills

Dani G. says …

Anything that helps mothers and children is a good thing!

Jolene G says …

I love Alaffia lotion. I also love to support those in more need than myself, especially when they are working hard, making an honest living.

Milta M. says …

Alaffia hair and skin products are great. The shampoo is great for color treated hair. I no longer worry about using a chemical cocktail for skin care. Thank you for bringing these great products to market!

shea says …

I have not tried it or seen it in stores but it sounds awesome and I can't wait to try them all.

westwoman says …

We must be diligent about voting with our dollars. Knowing that these wonderful products contribute to better lives for our sisters around the world makes using them all the more enjoyable and important.

Brooke Barnhart says …

I love their leave-in for curls! I use it and share with my boyfriend's 9 year old--and we both have straight hair. It's even better that it comes from fair trade and is making a difference in the lives of others.

Diane says …

I applaud anyone who has the courage and bravery to take on helping an entire village raise its standard of living. In my book, anyone who is trying to educate women about the life-threatening dangers of FMG is a very special person. FMG has to be the most abhorrent procedure ever perpetrated on women. Mr. Olowo-n’djo Tchala is to be commended for his work.

Michelle says …

Thanks for sharing! Supporting fair trade is a way to help directly.

Joy D says …

Whole Trade or Fair Trade products are important to me because those that are not subject workers and children to unhealthy working conditions and an income that often confines them into poverty. I support any company that aspires to reward employers who care for the quality of life they provide for their employees. It's hard to enjoy something when I know that it was made by someone who does not have fair opportunities in life.

Erin says …

Allafia sounds like something I would like to support in the future.

renee says …

if there is a choice, i always go for the fair trade / whole trade option in a product. it goes beyond my own enjoyment of the product to something deeper - i support companies that put effort toward our greater global community...

Relebohile Sekonyela says …

I have never used the products but I will try them next time. I am glad that Alaffia and Whole Foods have shared this important story with all of us.

K Akers says …

I love coconut anything, I will look for these products next time I'm in the store. Disgusting what mankind comes up with to abuse and oppress.

Lauren says …

I love their shampoo! I love what they stand for and will continue to make purchases with them :) I didn't know they offered other products, I'll have to check them out!

Rachel Golusinski says …

Allafia is doing great things! Can't wait to try their products!

Emily says …

Stories like this make shopping at whole foods all the more worthwhile! I use everyday shea & kiss my face products regularly but haven't seen/heard of this. now that I know, I will try it out!

joHN CHOWANEC says …

i will look for these products at WHOLE FOODS the next time I'm there.

Kirsten says …

I always but fair trade coffee and would like to expand the number of fair trade products I am consuming.

jessie v says …

Whole Trade™ Guaranteed products are hugely important to us, because we believe that the spirit and intention behind something (be it food, soap, clothing etc) is carried with it, and unto us, when we purchase it. We only want fair traded items, grass fed happy eggs, chickens, cows etc in our lives. We do not want the doomed and desperate energy of workers who are essentially slaves, working for pennies a day, or animals who never see the light of the sun, or feel a gentle breeze - to enter into our home. We know that such injustices exist, and we strive hard, as an entire family, to be fair and honest in all of our dealings. We try our best to follow the golden rule. And we LOVE Alafia Liquid African Black Soap. It is the best out there!!

Wendy says …

What most people want is to be self-sustaining; to be able to live with integrity and ensure that the next generation is safe, healthy and prosperous. Fair Trade allows women, men and children to learn, teach, care for and live a life that they can feel good about. Thank you for sharing this story.

Jillian McKeown says …

Knowing that it's Whole Trade is important because it makes responsible shopping a lot easier. When I'm at the grocery store, I usually don't have time to research the products ahead of time, especially if I am splurging. It's takes the guess work out of whether or not it's fair trade.

Angela Koga says …

I have not used the products yet but i will diffently try them out now!!!

Domenica Galluccio says …

Great story. Being awake and aware while living consciously and producing/purchasing ethically are the things that can turn the world around.

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