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Friday, October 31, 2014

Olowo-n'djo's Update: Labor Equality for All

Dear Friends of Alaffia,

It is my sincere wish this letter finds you and your family in good health.  The month of October is dedicated to fair trade, during which we as people celebrate the efforts and achievements of this movement. While I am in a celebrating spirit, I cannot help but think of the magnitude of the task before us in creating a just world for all, regardless of our geographical location or birth origin. The task is great because fair trade is in direct competition with free trade.  While fair trade is a social movement with the goal of producers receiving a bigger piece of the price paid by consumers, free trade is defined as international trade unhindered by tariffs and quotas.  It is an unsettling fact that free trade is taking over Africa today, and this is why I cannot completely celebrate our achievements. 

By 2015, seven out of the ten fastest growing economies will be in Africa, yet it is impossible to see how this economic growth is raising my people out of poverty.  In fact, it is making the conditions almost worse, as the new wealth is concentrated on the top, and the capital gains are funneled out of the continent leaving little or nothing for the people at the bottom.  For instance, in Togo, the poverty rate for rural women is 74%, making education for our children unattainable.  The resulting lack of education and opportunity leads to human trafficking and child slavery. Additionally, our women produce 66% of the continent’s food, but only earn 1% of the total income. Such disparity clearly leads to gender inequality.

Selifa Ganiou
Cooperative member, Sokodé, Togo
When I think of these numbers, I see the women behind them and their pain. To me, it means the movement for fair trade of our resources must carry on and we must fight harder.  Otherwise, what does it mean to be human if we can’t ensure full human rights and dignity for all?  The stories and realities of our cooperative members are further proof this fight must continue.  One of our cooperative members, Selifa Ganiou, once shared her own experience with me: “Before my integration into the Alaffia cooperative, I moved to Benin to work in the capitol city and was without my children and my husband.  Now, since I’ve been with the cooperative for the last year, I find it possible to support the needs of my family. For example, I was able to save the life of my older brother thanks to the money that I make.  I have seven children; four are presently in school.  When the other three were school age, I was not able to live with them and did not have the means to keep them in school.  I would like to thank everyone who supports our cooperative and encourage them to take a strong hand to live happily with their families, like I am able to now that I am with the cooperative and no longer have to travel to find work.” Narratives such as these prove to me that a fair opportunity extended to one person can positively impact many more.

While the pictures and the real situations of our people on the ground may be unpleasant, we cannot and must not yield this fight. We must not be discouraged or intimidated. We must continue to dedicate our efforts toward the equality of all members of our human family.  As a result of this absolute commitment, our future generations shall rise from poverty and live in peace.  Most important to remember is that each and every one of us has the power to employ positive change upon one another.

I thank you for your continued caring and support, and believe together we can create justice on earth.

Humbly Yours,

Olowo-n’djo Tchala

Friday, July 18, 2014

Olowo-n'djo's Update: Sirina's Story & Togo Trip Recap

Dear Friends of Alaffia,

It is my wish that you and your family are having a good summer and are in good health.  Last week, Rose, our girls and I made it safely back from our three week trip to Togo. Our main objective for the visit was to assist the Alaffia cooperative move to our new location. Before I share with you the progression of the move, I would like to share with you my feelings and experiences during my visit and since my return. No matter how many times I visit Togo, I am always caught off guard by the great suffering of the people, and yet Togo is a place where I find profound peace in my heart. Part of me sees the overwhelming desperation of the human condition and feels a sense that there is no point in trying to better the lives of my people. The other part feels a great level of responsibility that I must do more in mitigating the injustice that permeates our society. At times, I also question why I am the lucky one, as no person pre-chooses what family they are born to and who their life partner will be.  In my case, it is my partner that forever changed my life circumstances from being a farm boy in northern Togo to a man in America trying to revive and preserve the humanity in my people.

New Cooperative in Togo

A specific experience that touched my heart was a visit with Abidé Awesso, Alaffia’s Community Support Coordinator in the Kara Region, to Koundoum, a village that participates in Alaffia’s maternal health initiative.  This was a simple visit to meet the officials of the Koundoum health clinic and the chiefs of Koundoum and surrounding villages to support Abidé in her determination to end female genital mutilation in Togo.  The participation and solidarity of elders is critical for Abidé’s success with this delicate topic.  When we arrived, two things happened that I was not expecting. First, I was not anticipating a large crowd, but all the women from the five surrounding villages that participated in the Alaffia maternal health program for the past three years came together with their children for a welcome ceremony to show their true gratitude. This meant a lot to both Rose and me, as we know this is farming season in Togo, and losing a day of work on the farm is not an easy choice for these families. 

The second thing that touched me was the cultural diversity and richness that continues in my communities. This richness was evident in the traditional drumming during the ceremony. It was the first time in my life as a Togolese native to see the traditional ceramic drums made of two-handled, 30-inch clay jars and goat skin played in Koundoum. In addition, women from Manga village played a specific drum consisting of a clay jar and calabash that is only played by women and creates the most unique sound. I was deeply touched to see and experience these ancient parts of our diverse cultures, and knowing they still exist makes preserving them even more critical.

Traditional drum ceremony

Moreover, on July 5th, we held our first meeting at the new Alaffia Cooperative, which has been named “Alaffia Village” by the cooperative members.  While many words and thoughts were expressed during the meeting, it was Sirina Izetou’s voice that stayed with us.  Sirina joined the Alaffia Cooperative only a couple months ago to weave baskets.  It was toward the end of the meeting when Sirina raised her hand to introduce herself to us and convey a message from her father: 

Sirina Izetou
“I am from a large family of 17 children. Only one of my brothers ever set foot in school. Because of my difficult living conditions, I asked to be recruited by Alaffia and I was accepted. After I received my first paycheck, I sent a portion of it to my father and told him of my recruitment by an organization called Alaffia. What was his reaction when I told him? He started by saying, “How is it that someone like you who has not been to school could be recruited by an organization?” I told him in the town of Sokodé, there is an organization founded by a Togolese residing in the USA which employs poor women to produce shea butter. He persisted with his questions by asking what language the founder communicates with us. I told him he speaks our local languages like Kotokoli and added that he is from Kamboli. That's when he told me that when I met the founder, his wife, his children, his parents, and his collaborators, I must thank them. He ended by wishing that Alaffia grow more than we know. Thank You!”

While Alaffia’s journey is often overwhelming, a sense of courage comes to us when an individual’s life is positively impacted beyond our imaginations.  Sirina’s story also reminds me of the importance of family, and while we have diverse ways of interacting with our parents and at times we do not see eye to eye, we must take care of them and at the same time forgive them, as I could see the joy that Sirina had in her face when she proudly stood in the group and shared her father’s message.
Although we were not able to move the entire cooperative fully into our new location, we were able to install the basket weaving and black soap production. The shea butter production is being moved this week, and I will be returning to Togo in two weeks to complete the remaining sections.  It is our hope that in five years, 1,000 women will be working at Alaffia, double the current 500.
In summary, our ability to move to a new cooperative and to receive messages such as this from Sirina, is made possible by you, our customers, retailers, and friends. You enable Alaffia to keep breathing, and for this I will always be grateful to each and every one of you. I wish you and your family a peaceful rest of summer.

Humbly Yours,

Olowo-n’djo Tchala

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Where Are You Taking Alaffia this Summer?

To request a sticker, pin, or temporary tattoo write us at with your name and address.

Official Rules:
  • Must be 18 years or older and provide a shipping address within the United States.
  • Contest runs from June 25, 2014 4:00 PM PST – July 31, 2014 3:00 PM PST.
  • Picture post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the tag #poweroftheeban enters the giveaway.
  • Winners will be selected by Alaffia's design guru, Ben Wilson (you can check out his work here).
  • Winners will be contacted via Facebook message within 24 hours of the end of the contest.  The winners will have 24 hours to respond to being notified of winning.  If no response is received within 24 hours, a back-up winner will be selected, and will be notified.  The same process applicable to the original winner will apply to all back-up winners.
  • Grand prize winner will win a year supply of Authentic Black Soap which equals one 32oz bottle per month for 12 months
  • One second prize will win a six-month supply of EveryDay Coconut Lip Balm which equals one lip balm per month for 6 months.
  • Ten runner ups will receive one EveryDay Coconut Lip Balm
  • Content deemed inappropriate will not be eligible for entry into the contest