Friday, November 29, 2013

Statistics of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism

On December 20, 1993 the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Following this declaration the General Assembly designated November 15th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The United Nations has always sought to bring light to gender equality and the violence perpetuated against women through the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The Commission met for the fifty-seventh session in March 2013 and stated that though progress has been made since the founding of the organization in 1946 the Commission: “recognizes that women’s poverty and lack of empowerment, as well as their marginalization resulting from their exclusion from social and economic policies and from the benefits of education and sustainable development, can place them at increased risk of violence, and that violence against women impedes the social and economic development of communities and States.”

Alaffia has been working to alleviate poverty and empower women for the past ten years. We are encouraged in our mission when we read statements like these made by the UNCSW. We believe that working towards empowering women can also protect women from violence. We also whole heartily agree that marginalizing women in society damages social and economic development not just for women, but for the entire nation. By providing a fair wage, a safe work environment, and community projects to empower women in West Africa we know we are playing an active role in ending the cycle of violence against women.  We will continue working towards a future free of not just violence against women, but any act that keeps women from being fully engaged both socially and economically.

To bring awareness to this grave issue, and to honor those who have suffered, Alaffia  has donated hair and beauty products to Olympia’s Safe Place. Safe Place is an advocacy agency that offers a confidential shelter to those who have been a victim of domestic abuse. Over the next several days, Alaffia will observe the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence that leads up to Human Rights Day with stories highlighting how empowerment and fair trade are combating gender violence. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Maternal Health and Dr. Susan

The Hospital that Dr. Susan Picotte founded.
On Monday we highlighted Dr. Susan Picotte, a pioneering woman who was the first Native American to become a physician. Dr. Picotte grew up on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. After graduating from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania she returned home to open her own practice on the reservation. She worked tirelessly to provide health care that her reservation desperately needed. Her path began with her father, also the tribal chief, who always encouraged her, and other tribal members, to pursue education. As a child she saw and experienced the injustice and inequality that existed around her. Later in life she cited an experience of watching a woman die, because a white doctor refused to treat her, as inspiration for her pursuing a medical degree. Her life’s goal was to open a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill. This was finally realized towards the end of her life.

Rose and Olowo-n'djo at a maternal health clinic
founded by Alaffia
Olowo-n’djo also grew up in an environment where health care was not readily available to everyone, and even the clinics that did exist were consistently under-staffed and under-supported. Like Dr. Picotte, Olowo-n’djo has made it his life’s mission to correct these inequalities and create an environment where all people can grow up healthy and pursue their dream of a better life. Both were spurred by death and suffering they witnessed around them to push, provide, and keep fighting to offer health care to those who need it most. The Alaffia Maternal Health Program provides care to over 1,000 women every year and is constantly growing in its capabilities and its reach. As Alaffia grows, so too does its ability to meet Olowo-n’djo’s dream of providing women a safe place to bring  new life into the world.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Power of Dance

Across the world there are universal practices that bind communities and cultures together and remind us how similar we are. Dance is a universal practice that can be found in almost all cultures. From traditional tribal dance in Togo, to ballerinas of Paris, each culture has found a way to express emotions rhythmically.

Earlier this week, Alaffia honored former prima ballerina Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief. Not only was she the first prima ballerina of Native American descent, but also one of the first American prima ballerinas. Throughout her life she actively fought stereotypes and misconceptions of Native American people.  She is a shining example of an individual who fought to break down stereotypes to pursue her passion.

In Togo dancing styles are as diverse as the people who call Togo home. Styles include Agbadza, Kamou, Soo, Tchimou, Djokoto, Kpehouhuon and many others. Dance becomes more than just movement of the body; it becomes emotional, social, and spiritual. Even though each different stylistically, they are tied together by power of movement and the joy it brings.

When Olowo-n’djo returns yearly to Togo, he is met with joyful singing and dancing. Members of Alaffia Co-operatives in Togo express the joy of having a living wage, and the positive impact our community projects have on their country. However, the joy isn’t just felt in Togo. During the Empowerment Tour Olowo-n’djo was moved and overjoyed with the positive energy he received from customers and stores, and he too was moved to dance. At Alaffia we hope to continue giving people reasons to dance and express joy through the power movement.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Inspiring Life of Eliza (Lyda) Burton Conley

This month Alaffia acknowledges and honors the contributions, achievements, and sacrifices made by Native Americans, specifically women, and celebrates their heritage with the rest of the Nation.

Eliza (Lyda) Burton Conley

Eliza (Lyda) Burton Conley (1869-1946) was born a member of the Wyandotte Nation in Kansas. She was one of three sisters, all raised to pursue an education at a time when women were not encouraged to do so. She was the first woman admitted to the Kansas State Bar, as well as the first Native American Woman allowed to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. Her case was instrumental in the protection of the Huron Cemetery, a Wyandotte burial ground, one of the last pieces of tribal land not incorporated into the Kansas City sprawl.

Students in Togo enjoying new school benches
Lyda was a forerunner for empowerment through her insistence on respect for repressed Native cultures, as well as her strides made for women by refusing to adhere to the accepted gender roles of the times.  The Huron Cemetery, now known as the Wyandotte National Burying Ground, stands today as a testament to the dedication of Eliza Conley, as well as a federally protected parcel of Wyandotte legacy. Lyda embodies the same spirit and tenacity exhibited by the women at our co-ops in Togo.  In Togo we view each woman we empower as the beginning of a cycle that is passed from one generation to the next. Women who, without our support, might drop out of school are emboldened to change Togo and the world for the better. Through Alaffia fair trade and community projects we are helping the next generation who will have the ability to fight for the respect of all people. The power of education has the ability to change not just an individual’s life, but also the community they reside as well as the world. What will the woman empowered with a bicycle accomplish now that she can complete her education?  What will the child safely brought into the world grow up to become? At Alaffia we are inspired by the potential we see in future generations.  Stories like Eliza Burton’s remind us of our purpose, and inspire us to continue our mission.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fair Trade – From a Different Angle

With October being National Fair Trade Month, there is, expectedly, plentiful conversation had around the tenets of Fair Trade. What is the quality of the products being made? What is the compensation offered to the producers? Are the working environments safe for those doing the work?
Alaffia Basket Weaving Coop in Ghana
Sokode Shea Butter Coop

In all of this necessary conversation, a piece of Fair Trade that often goes without mention is what the products are packaged in. Plastic packaging is everywhere, global production of plastics has doubled over the past 15 years (2008), and only in the recent past has a dialogue opened up about the toxicity levels in this popular form of packaging.

A few of the more toxic ingredients used in the creation of plastic are BPA, PVC, and Polystyrene. The dangers of these are relatively well known, yet they are still widely used. Each are known to leach cancer causing properties into whatever they contain, and in the case of beauty products, this then becomes absorbed into your bloodstream within seconds. We include Fair Trade in our packaging process as well. We source the majority of our packaging from local manufacturers, who work to create non-toxic packaging made from post-consumer waste. By using packaging from our surrounding states, we are supporting our local US based economy rather than outsourcing to factories in places like China where the welfare of the workers is in question. In many of those factories, the workers face serious long-term health risks, including multiple types of cancers and lymphomas. Additionally, by sourcing in majority from California and Utah, we are working to reduce our carbon footprint by forgoing the expense of international export.Our packaging supplier routinely inspects their domestic and international facilities to ensure that employees are working in safe and non-toxic environments; the well-being of the workers is a focus.
Sorting Shea nuts at the Sokode Coop
Part of the Shea butter making process

Alaffia products in the making at our Olympia headquarters

Safely packaged, finished product. 

At Alaffia, we feel that Fair Trade should encompass the entire production process from harvest to shelf. From providing fair wages to those who harvest our raw ingredients in Togo, to those who formulate and create our products here in Olympia, Wa. to the bottles those products are filled in. We strive to maintain transparent relationships with all who contribute to the creation of an Alaffia product.

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