Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Kaboli Kindergarten

The Kaboli Kindergarten is a project dearest to my heart and has reawakened my calling to serve my people. In November 2014, 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 hometown.

Greeting Kaboli Kindergarten's first students

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.

The students outside their new school

The students performed a song & dance for Alaffia

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 supporter, “I thank you for supporting 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.

Gratefully Yours,
Olowo-n'djo Tchala

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Letter from Olowo-n'djo; Heading to Togo June 2015

Good Morning Friends of Alaffia,

It is my wish that this note finds you and your family in good health and you are enjoying your summer. I am writing to inform you I am returning to Togo this afternoon with Rose and our girls for four weeks. Every time I return home to Togo, I feel I must inform you about my objective and goals of my trip, since each and every one of you makes Alaffia possible. Although I’m going home, in my mind and soul I am going to represent you and to do as I should to carry on the Alaffia mission on behalf of all of us. The duties of this trip are as follows.

The Alaffia family send off

First, we will be in Bolga, northern Ghana, to finalize the fair trade certification of our basket cooperative there. As the Togo baskets are already certified fair trade, the certification of our decentralized Bolga cooperative further strengthens the traceability and fair trade principles we have had in place to  provide stable incomes for the over 1,800 families in the region for the past seven years.

Second, earlier this year, I sent a note regarding the opening of the new Alaffia Artisan Center in Sokodé at the former location of our Shea Butter Cooperative.  The Alaffia Artisan Center is a new endeavor for Alaffia, and the members will be made up of former prostitutes and orphans. Unlike the other Alaffia cooperatives, this will be more of a rehabilitation center, providing opportunity to a marginalized segment of our society. The center is due to officially open and begin crafting hand sewn bags and scarves from traditionally dyed fabrics on June 30th. I will provide more details upon my return to the USA in July.

Third, we will begin the construction of the biogas system at Alaffia’s Shea Butter Cooperative. This is another step in our goal for self-sustainability. The biobas system combines residues from traditional shea butter processing with cow manure to produce methane, which is then used in the roasting of shea nuts and in the cooking of our traditional black soap.

My final mission for this trip is to spend each evening eating and visiting with my family members that I miss dearly. Since my mother will be traveling with us in Togo, Ghana and Benin, I am looking forward to many true traditional meals.

Until next time, I wish you all a joyful summer and thank you for all that you continue to do for Alaffia.

Humbly yours,