Thursday, March 26, 2015

Togo Trip 2015 Recap

Dear Friends of Alaffia,
It is my true wish this note finds you and your family in good health. Rose and I recently returned from a short trip to visit our people of Togo. While the trip was short, it encompassed very important missions. The first mission of this trip, similar to all our Alaffia Cooperative visits, was to continue to strengthen Alaffia’s objectives and to share with the Alaffia team in Togo the activities of Alaffia USA, as their lives depend on Alaffia USA’s stability and viability. However, this mission was more than symbolic, as we officially opened the new Alaffia Cooperative, a working area of four acres, made possible by the efforts of all our customers and friends. I can humbly say without reserve, by the end of this year, 300 more women will join our Cooperative, making Alaffia’s women 800 in total.

Another purpose of the trip was to check on the empowerment projects funded through our Good Soap initiative launched last year. Good Soap sales have directly funded two truly impactful projects in our Togo communities. The first is a latrine Alaffia built for students in Kouloumi, Togo. Here in the USA, the convenience and luxury that clean and safe toilet facilities provide is often forgotten. We cannot underestimate the importance of this latrine for our young students.

Students in Kouloumi in front of the new latrine

The second project funded by Good Soap is the dearest to my heart and has reawakened my calling to serve my people. In November, we began construction of the first Alaffia Kindergarten in Kaboli. In the more than ten years that Alaffia has conducted community empowerment projects in central Togo, this is the first time we have done something in my own home town.

Students outside their new school.

The kindergarten is being built next to the primary school where I was enrolled by my mother at age six. I would like to share a little story with you, as this brings pride to my heart.

On my first day of first grade, the teacher asked me to come read the alphabet in French on the blackboard. I had never before practiced the alphabet, but the teacher made the assumption because I was tall for my age I was older and must be repeating first grade. In Togo, when you fail the national mandated exam at the end of the year, you have to repeat the class. The teacher assumed I had attended first grade before and, therefore, I should have been able to read the alphabet. He also did not know that I had a speech impediment and had difficulty pronouncing certain sounds. Failing to realize this, the teacher assumed I was a trouble maker, lazy, and stupid when I was unable to read the alphabet and hit me on the head with his ruler. I ran out of the school, and did not return to school again for two years.

While my story is not unique in Togo, the visit to our kindergarten under construction and seeing the hundreds of children and mothers who came to say thanks, gave me strength and courage. It filled my soul knowing no child in Kaboli will be entering first grade without first going through kindergarten, to identify and work with speech difficulties, to learn the alphabet, and to not fear going to school as I did so many years ago.

Furthermore, nothing I have done has made my mother more proud of me than the construction of this school. As you know, water is not readily available everywhere in Togo, and the school does not have a well. Therefore, water had to be brought to the school for the masons to mix the mortar for the bricks. Every morning before breakfast, my mother and her friends carried water on their heads from their homes to the construction site. She thanked me for giving her a way to help and to say to you, our retailers, “I thank you for supporting and selling Alaffia to give my son the monetary ability to fund this school and allow me to contribute.” As you know, these words do not even begin to express what it means to her.

Olowo-n'djo and his mother, Abiba Agbanga Tchala.

In conclusion, it is you, our retailers and friends, which are fostering sustainable communities and restoring dignity upon my people and the generations yet to be born, simply by sharing Alaffia with your customers. You know fair trade lotions and shampoos alone cannot return what has been deprived of my people; Alaffia goes beyond fair trade to fund the poverty alleviation and gender equality programs that are critical to complete our mission of moral self-empowerment. I believe the positive, moral, and conscience trade of our resources in the marketplace is the new way of achieving and maintaining justice. I thank you for giving me a chance to bring hope to my communities and I humbly wish you a healthy 2015.

Gratefully Yours,
Olowo-n’djo Tchala