Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2010 Trip to Togo

New Alaffia Members
We are writing to take the opportunity to share the highlights of Olowo-n’djo and Rose’s time spent with our cooperative in Togo, West Africa, in December of 2010.  Before leaving for Togo, they imagined that this trip would present the opportunity to have some days to rest since Olowo-n’djo spent a great deal of time in 2010 on the road. However, it was quickly realized that much work was needed and long hours were ahead. These hours were well spent and worthwhile, though, as this trip was a vivid reminder of why we here at Alaffia have committed the past seven years to the empowerment of people in Togo. Most importantly it gave us courage to continue to do so. Furthermore, during this trip, Olowo-n’djo and Rose were able to touch on new and ongoing projects and objectives.

Due to the positive sales last year, we were able to bring in an additional fifteen members to our cooperative, of whom ten are young women - promising longevity to Alaffia. Because of the extended family structure in Togo, this means that more than sixty individuals will be depending on the incomes of these newest additions.  Our hope is to bring another 30 women to the cooperative before the end of the year - in hopes of touching the lives of even more of the community in Togo.

Solar Panel Installation
For the past seven years, we have planned to install a solar energy system at the cooperative but it was not possible, either financially or logistically, until this year’s trip.  During our first week, we installed a solar system to power lights as well as the cooperative’s laptop computer.  These new lights will make it easier for preparing the shea oil after dark has fallen.  If this solar system works well for the cooperative, we will begin installing similar systems in poor schools in 2012.  Over 90% of schools in rural Togo do not have access to electricity and lights. Installing simple solar systems will provide lighting during school and also after hours so students can meet and study.

We are optimistic about this new solar energy system and are looking forward to our 2012 plans with the schools.

New Treatment System
In addition to the solar panels, we also implemented a water treatment system at the cooperative. The byproduct of traditional shea production is a shea nut and water slurry.  This byproduct is not waste; the water can be reused and the residue has multiple uses – for compost, biogas production and fuel. Previously, our byproduct treatment system was very labor intensive. Over the past two years, Rose designed a system to reduce labor and increase our ability to reuse the byproduct. During this visit, we were able to build and begin using the new system. The system is very simple – the byproduct is poured into a concrete holding tank each afternoon and allowed to settle overnight. In the mornings, the water is released and used to irrigate our lemongrass fields.  The residue is scooped out and reused. Currently we are composting the bulk of the residue, but in the next month we will begin drying and compressing it into fuel logs.

Maternal Health Care Mothers
Each year since 2006, Alaffia has provided maternal support for 100 pregnant women. For the 2010-2011 program, we came to the decision to increase the number to 400 women. On this trip, Olowo-n’djo and Rose were able to visit most of the villages, and for the first time, established a binding agreement with the Togo government health system of the central region, the Sokodé PolyClinique, to provide full maternal support for 400 women. Alaffia pays all fees and expenses, and the clinics will provide for all medical needs for these 400 women – including regular checkups and emergency care.  During their clinic tours, they were also able to visit with some of the women who participated in the program over the past four years. It was very gratifying to see healthy mothers and their children and to hear how the maternal health program has helped them.

But the project expansion didn’t stop there this year.

Birthing Materials Distributed
In early 2010, Alaffia began a partnership with North Valley Family Medicine in Tonasket, WA. There is a serious lack of adequate birthing materials in Togolese clinics, which contributes to high maternal and baby death rates.  Dr. Justina Bolz and her team in Tonasket set up a fundraiser for the Alaffia Maternal Health program. With the enticement of Alaffia products and helping their colleagues in Togo, Dr. Bolz raised enough funds to purchase birthing supplies for 700 births.  The materials included basic supplies and equipment – such as gloves, gauze, towels, scalpels, scissors, and clamps. We promised Dr. Bolz to personally deliver these materials to 7 village health clinics in Togo to ensure the goods were delivered to their intended recipients.  Rose and Olowo-n’djo kept to their word and did just that. The clinics were beyond pleased and grateful, as many of them still use scissors from the 1970s, until now.

Rose & Olowo-n’djo continued on and visited the Kouloumi Secondary School in their journey. During this trip, much was accomplished.

School Benches
Schools like the secondary school at Kouloumi are the prime incentive for Alaffia’s community projects.  Alaffia’s involvement in the Kouloumi school began in September 2008.  At this time, Olowo-n’djo was visiting the cooperative, and a delegation made up of the Kouloumi Chief’s representative and the new Kouloumi School Director visited him and urged Alaffia to provide benches for their new secondary school. Until 2008, Kouloumi, a town of over 5,000 inhabitants, did not have a secondary school.  Students who wanted to continue beyond 6th grade either made the 15 km journey to the next larger town or moved in with relatives.  In 2008, the government provided a teacher, and the villagers built the school – a basic mud and straw roofed structure, but could not afford benches. This is where Alaffia came in. We at Alaffia accepted the request and immediately put in an order for the benches to be built. 

In early 2009, the Director informed Alaffia that the village had given over 20 acres of land to the school and that they would like to participate in Alaffia’s reforestation project.  After visiting the site, Olowo-n’djo and Rose agreed to their proposal and provided enough fruit and native trees to cover the school’s property.

Kouloumi Boy's Soccer Team
During this year’s trip, they again visited Kouloumi, and the first trees are now over 6 feet tall and will bear their first fruit this season. Kouloumi was chosen to participate in the Alaffia Bicycles for Education program, and Olowo-n’djo & Rose personally distributed 60 bicycles to the students that live in the surrounding smaller villages. The Kouloumi School has come a long way, and in recognition of Alaffia’s help, they have named their girls’ and boys’ soccer teams after Alaffia. After their visit, and seeing the determination of the community, the students, teachers, and the school’s Director, Alaffia has decided to build a permanent 5-classroom structure for the school.  Currently, the classrooms are constructed of mud and straw. From August to October, and then again in May and June, school is often cancelled because the roof cannot withstand the heavy rains. The school is located outside the village, and venomous snakes often enter the classrooms, even during school hours. The school also does not have a source of water, and the Director and teachers do not have an office.  The total cost to provide a well and solid, well-built school for Kouloumi is $9,000.  Alaffia has pledged to finance and finish construction of the school by August 2011.

We are very grateful to the Kouloumi school for their participation in our reforestation project and we are excited to see the walls to their new school go up!

Alaffia Tree Nursery Shelter
As many of you already know and have read about on both our Facebook page as well as our website, each year we plant 1,000 trees to help mitigate the impact of climate change and desertification. During this trip the decision was made to increase the number to 4,000 trees. This is a big step and in order to realize this goal, the cooperative decided to build their own nursery and to hire an arborist to manage our new nursery.  During their visit, Rose & Olowo-n’djo built the nursery shade structure, and our new arborist has begun a three month training program with a local nursery expert.  Next month, Alaffia will propagate 4,000 trees. After three months, the young trees will be transplanted throughout central Togo.
As you can see from our trip progress so far, the tasks of managing all these growing projects as well as the addition of new projects in Togo, it was realized that Alaffia was in need of a Project Coordinator to help at the cooperative.

Essi
Until recently, the Alaffia cooperative director also managed our community projects. As these projects have grown, it has become difficult for one person to manage both. For this reason, Alaffia hired Essi Azoumanah as our Project Coordinator in Togo. Essi is a very unique and determined young woman.  She is 28 years old, and despite many hardships, has earned a Bachelor degree from the University of Benin in Togo. Essi’s father died when she was just six years old, and she was raised by her mother.  Since childhood, she decided she would become an important person one day, and that studying hard was her only option to achieve her goal.  Essi’s multi ethnic background also makes her perfect for the job. Essi’s father was from southern Togo, and her mother is from the northern Kabyé ethnic group. She grew up and went to school in Sokodé. Because of her diverse background, Essi speaks 5 Togolese languages fluently, and has a great understanding of cultural differences and customs which is critical for the projects as they are conducted across multiple ethnicities.

Essi will help us conduct better follow-up on our projects – determining their impact and how best to use funding and resources. 

After a long, very productive trip, Olowo-n’djo and Rose ended their trip with the donation of bicycles to the local community health program.

Olowo-n'djo with Recipients
During their discussions with the Sokodé PolyClinique, they were asked if Alaffia could provide bicycles to local Village Health Agents. For all villages that do not have a health clinic, the central region clinic system provides a Village Health Agent. Village Health Agents visit households to conduct basic health checks, disseminate information about vaccination programs, healthy eating, malaria prevention and so forth, and provide basic first aid.  However, they are not given any method of transportation, which makes their job very difficult to perform.  Olowo-n’djo and Rose felt that this need aligned well with our community empowerment objectives; therefore, the decision was made to provide 100 bicycles to the program.  There are 400 Village Health Agents in central Togo alone. This initiative will be followed very closely, and if the bicycles are truly used in the way the PolyClinique has agreed to, we will continue to provide another 100 bicycles each year for the next three years. 

Donated Bikes for Health
Furthermore, because of this additional need for bicycles, we plan to step up our annual collections from 500 to 1000 bikes this year. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and would like to donate a bicycle, please contact us.­!

In summary, this year’s trip was productive and provided us with a renewed belief that Alaffia community projects must continue at all costs and are worth all the long hours of work.  It is also clear that these projects are only possible due to sales of Alaffia product – your efforts and support reach beyond what you can imagine.  On behalf of the Togolese communities and Alaffia cooperative members, we deeply thank you and wish all of you a healthy and peaceful 2011.

Please visit www.alaffia.com and our Facebook photo albums for more pictures from our trip.

We appreciate all of you taking the time to follow us on our trip to Togo and truly hope you found this trip enlightening and encouraging!

Lacey, WA Men's Alaffia Team - Wearing Shirts from Togo

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