Friday, August 23, 2013

The Alaffia Empowerment Tour

Friends of Alaffia, we are so pleased to announce that the long awaited Empowerment Tour is set to launch in 10 days! For those who aren’t familiar, here’s the story from Olowo-n’djo:
Dear Retailers and Friends of Alaffia

 It is my sincere wish that this letter finds you and your family in good health. I am writing to you to inform you of a 58-day nation-wide tour I am undertaking in [September and October] of this year. I am packing up a biodiesel van and taking this 8,780 mile tour in celebration of the 10thanniversary of the creation of our Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative in Togo.  Because of a deep commitment and shared will, the cooperative is here today without outside investment. The true reason why we continue to exist is the opportunities each and every one of you has given to Alaffia, and therefore my foremost objective is to visit as many of you as possible as a personal extension of my gratitude. 

There are no words to express to you the profound impact that your support has enabled Alaffia to have on my communities. [Last December], upon my arrival in Sokodé, more than 4,000 women and children lined up to express their thankfulness. From that moment on, I knew my own life would never be the same. I know now the responsibilities that I must bear for my communities are for life or death, and that this self-sacrifice is justified for the greater good of others.  

I am greatly looking forward to visiting you and sharing with you our combined achievements as we prepare for the continuing journey towards empowerment of all our communities.  I strongly believe that if we march forward together on the long road towards economic justice, we will build on the freedoms for which those before us have sacrificed so that the generations yet to come will realize the fundamental principles of basic equality and full human rights.
I humbly thank you and am looking forward to visiting with you.

-Olowo-n'djo Tchala

Here are the quickest ways for you to stay updated on where the Tour is at, and how you can be a part:
-Our website ( will be updated daily. Here you can expect a daily update of the stops that Olowo-n’djo will be making, and if there is a meet and greet near you!
-In addition, our twitter feed @AlaffiaSkinCare and Facebook page will be full of the daily details of whereabouts and happenings.

Olowo-n'djo and the Empowerment Tour van will be on the road starting September 2nd. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Word From Olowo-n'djo Tchala - Part 2

However, you know that not all my encounters in Togo are of a negative nature, and we can find happiness and joy in most every situation. A highly positive part of my trip was spending time with my mother. In the ten years since the creation of Alaffia, devoting time to family was not possible. This trip, my mother and seventeen sisters and cousins traveled with me to the many places I had to be, and it brought much comfort seeing them every morning and catching up on lost time. I should tell that you that I did put on a few extra pounds due to my mother's cooking.

With my mother, Abiba Agbanga, near Lomé, Togo.

Another encouraging element was the direct positive words we heard from people who have been touched by Alaffia. The following are excerpts from the speeches of the president of an Alaffia shea nut collective, a student who received a bicycle and her mother, and a high school student body representative.
 Amama Amadou, president of the Alaffia women's shea nut collective of Bowouda:

Amama Amadou, president of the Bowouda Shea Nut Collective.

Bouwouda Shea Nut Collective, with Alaffia's Cooperative Manager, Bouwouda, Togo.

"Before coming to buy shea nuts, Alaffia invited us to give the market price, then Alaffia added 20% to this price. Everyone received her own receipt and money for her own nuts. We sold over seven tons of shea nuts to Alaffia, and together we have saved over 400,000 fcfa [$1,000]. In the past, we got paid little by little for each bowl that we had. Today, the buying process is organized, and everyone gets their whole payment at once. I thank you and I plead you to continue your support in our village in order to reduce poverty. This year, thanks to the 20%, every one of us has paid the school fees for our children. We thank you very much for the support you have given to the women of Bowouda. You will be blessed for your efforts"

Tiekoa Lare, student:
"Now that I have been given a bike, I am free. When I did not have a bike, I was always late to school. Now, I am free. I get up, I sweep the yard, I wash the dishes before leaving for school, but I am still on time."

Tiekoa's mother:
"Before, my daughter suffered a lot to go to school. She was forced to go hungry (because she could not return home during lunch). Sometimes I was able to find 25 francs [10 cents], and I gave it to her to by lunch. And in the evening, she returned very late, from 7 to 8 pm, because of the distance. Now, with her bike, everything has changed. She gets to school on time, and returns early after school. Thank you for this precious gift. Thank you very much."
Tiekoa Lare with her family outside their home.
Student from Kadambara High School:
“Allow me to speak on behalf of the Kadambara High School – in the name of the teaching staff, the parents, students, and particularly the students who have received bicycles – in relaying our gratitude for benches and bicycles your organization has given us. By making these donations, Alaffia has helped improve learning conditions in our school.  We promise to make good use of these materials for our growth. May God Almighty protect you. Long live Alaffia and long live education in Kadambara!”

As positive and dignified the above words are, they also bring a heavy weight of responsibility which makes returning to American life difficult. We can continue to bring brightness and hope to Togolese individuals, families and communities, but our ability to do this depends on an uncertain market. It brings pain to my heart to see the faces of those who are so grateful and so desperately in need when I cannot promise the help we provide will always be there, since there is no guarantee that Alaffia's sales last year will be realized this year and the years to come. The only things that are certain is that my life will forever be sacrificed for the empowerment of all disadvantaged people, and that even if Alaffia was to disappear today from the face of the earth, the support and the opportunities that each and everyone one of you have given us in the past ten years has profoundly impacted my communities for generations to come.
With all my heart, I thank you for all you have done in the support of Alaffia, and I once again wish you a healthy and happy 2013.

Humbly Yours,

Olowo-n'djo Tchala

Walking with Alaffia cooperative members, Sokodé.
Bicycle recipients line up to greet me and our guests in Sokodé, Togo.
Alaffia cooperative members sing their welcome.

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.