Friday, August 9, 2013

A Word From Olowo-n'djo Tchala - Part 1

This year marks the 10th year since the creation of the Alaffia cooperative, and for the past
10 years, I have visited our cooperatives and families in Togo. Each visit provides me with
energy and vivid reasons why I must continue to tackle the many obstacles that arise for the
sake of empowering my communities against all odds. This was especially true with last
month's visit, and it is difficult for me to convey the emotional impact of the past five weeks in words.There is no tangible way to express the sense of responsibility of being welcomed by over
3,000 women and children who lined up to present their gratitude for the opportunities Alaffia
has brought them. And, while I grew up in Togo, I am still shaken by the level of human
condition that exists in villages that we work in. What troubles my heart is not that these
women work up to 12 hours a day in the hot sun to feed their families, but that they live
in unthinkable poverty because of life circumstances beyond their control.

For a grand welcome, Alaffia cooperative members and project participants lined up to greet me and our guests.
During this trip, I spent a great deal of time visiting with the women that Alaffia supported
during their pregnancy and birthing through our Maternal Health Project. Three of these
women touched my heart profoundly. The first was a mother who gifted me with her
newborn during the welcome home ceremony. During her welcome speech, this mother stated
that it is because of Alaffia funding her prenatal care and birthing that she is alive today. Her
gesture brought tears to my eyes for the first time in eight years. It is a sobering fact that if
Alaffia had not funded prenatal care for 700 women last year, at least 44 mothers would
 have died.
Holding the Alaffia baby that was gifted to me by her mother as a gesture of her gratitude.
The second is a mother from the Bassar region, where we supported 300 women
last year,most of whom underwent excision (genital mutilation) as children. Hodalo
Katakouna and her husband are farmers with four children. They have a tiny two-room
house made of mud bricks; Hodalo shares one room with her husband and children,
her elderly mother lives in the second room. Hodalo's firstborn was paralyzed during
birth. Hodalo lives 30 km from the nearest
health clinic, and with only a bicycle she was not able to reach the clinic in time for a
safe birth. Similarly, her second child is mentally disabled due to lack of oxygen during
birth. Last year,
Hodalo participated in the Alaffia maternal health program, and now has a healthy
baby girl.What touched my heart is not just her healthy Alaffia baby, her smile, and
her manyexpressions of gratitude despite her life conditions. It was also her story of
how because she had to save all available money to pay for her previous pregnancies,
she had only one set of clothing which she wore to the farm and market and washed at
night. With Alaffia supporting this pregnancy, she was able to pay for a second outfit for
the first time in five years.

With Hodalo Katakoua and her Alaffia girl at their home near Bassar, Togo.
On the same day I visited Hodalo, we headed further east to Manga. All 80 women that Alaffia supported in Manga have undergone excision, including Aichatou Fati, who lives in the small village of Tikolado six miles from Manga. There is no road to Tikolado, and even with motorcycles it is difficult getting there. There is no well, and water from the river is two miles away. Aichatou lives in an eight-foot square mud hut with her husband and new baby. During my visit, she told me that she underwent excision at age five, and would have died during childbirth if Alaffia had not supported her. The extreme poverty of this family is not unique to Tikolado or the Manga area. What is painful to my soul is the clear evidence of malnutrition among all the children here – reddish, straight hair instead of healthy dark curls, extended bellies, visible ribs. I left Manga with the knowledge that these stunted children have already missed their opportunity to be fully productive members of society, and that poverty will continue in this area for many generations to come. This knowledge brings me a heavy feeling of helplessness. 

-Look for our post next Friday for the rest of the story-

Aichatou Fati and her happy Alaffia baby boy, Tikolado, Togo.