Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Olowo-n'djo's Update: Pride Month

Dear Friends of Alaffia,

I hope this note finds you in good health. The month of June is recognized as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month), and celebrates the great diversity and variety of humanity in the world.  As I prepare to head to Togo, I am thinking that if there is one single thing most characteristic of Alaffia, it is our diversity. While outside Togo, we are all seen as Togolese, in reality, Togo has 42 distinct ethnic groups and each of these groups views themselves as a nation with unique language and culture. Individuals are more likely to represent their own ethnicity first before expressing themselves as Togolese.  Throughout Africa similar diversity has led to persecution, ethnic violence, and systematic denial of economic opportunity for people of ethnicities who are not part of government or military control. At the foundation of the Alaffia cooperative is the notion that as diverse as we are in Togo, we can co-exist in peace together. Ten years later, what was once an idea is now a reality.

In 2003, when I went to Togo to establish the Alaffia cooperative, I felt our differences should not be a reason for persecution; instead, they should be seen as assets. With this in mind, I decided to locate the cooperative in the center of the country in order to be accessible to ethnic groups from both the south and north of Togo, including the most disadvantaged group, the Fulani. To this day, my own ethnic group, the Kaboli, disagree with me for not “putting my own people first.” The fact is my own group does not experience the same type of discrimination that others do, and limiting the cooperative to only my own group would not serve the purpose of empowering those most in need.
Despite the difficulties at the beginning, I continued to believe we can all coexist if we call ourselves beings with humility and loving character. Therefore, I forged ahead, and today what we thought was impossible is blossoming.  Every time I walk into the Alaffia cooperative, it does not feel like a production facility. Instead, there is a sense in the air of celebration, mutual respect and collaboration.  No one has to give up her of his religious or traditional beliefs. The only belief we all have in common is to work and live in peace and with conviction.

While the Alaffia cooperative is a small setting, it convinces me that we can live in a world where we each maintain our beliefs and diversities, yet create a peaceful world that is free of persecution for any reason, be it skin color, religious belief, sexual orientation or any other difference. To me it is the ability to coexist with differences that makes us truly human. 

It is my hope that the Alaffia setting spreads not only through the continent of Africa, but the world. As for me, I will continue to dedicate my life for peace and full human rights for all.
Wishing you a peaceful summer,

Olowo-n’djo Tchala

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