Friday, December 22, 2017

Good morning friends. I realize it has been a while since I last shared my journey encounters with you. And today seems to be the right day. We are now in Ghana and my daughters took great interest in taking a day to explore the slave castles here and understand slavery. To me, this time when this inhumane form of trade was generally accepted conduct has resulted in the confusion of post-colonial African culture, economic disparity, and dignity of people of African origin.
I will admit whole heartedly that I did not have the stomach to walk the castles as bravely as my daughters. Instead, I sat down next to the local fishermen to write this note to share my feelings with you. I asked myself if we are not repeating the normalization of this practice today as I looked at the young woman with a child on her back in front of me washing dishes to serve the fishermen, and as I spoke on the phone with an Alaffia team member whose husband, a teacher, is not being fairly compensated. I again questioned myself that while one cannot equate the suffering of the slave trade with the suffering I currently see, I cannot also engage in unfairness of trade of the goods, services, dignity - dignity of ourselves.

While this may seem "gloom and doom" as they say, it is with the belief that we must look at history, not only to enjoy the upcoming holidays with our families or alone, but also to wonder in a meaningful way if we as people are choosing a better future for the generations on the horizon? And should we be responsible? From Ghana, the town of Elmina, I wish you happy holidays.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Recap of 2017 | Giving Thanks

Dear Friends of Alaffia,

It is my wish that my letter finds you and your family in good health.  
The primary reasons for my writing this evening are to express to you, and on 
behalf of us all at Alaffia, our gratitude for the hand you continue to lend us such 
that our mission may continue its journey, and to wish you and yours a most 
joyful holiday season.  I believe that we are all held together by the humility 
 and love embedded in each of us to create heaven on earth for all people 
and our surroundings. You have continued to support Alaffia in ways you know 
best, and together we are reducing the pain of the innocent. 

Simply put: I can only say thank you.  Going forward, I would like to ensure you 
that Alaffia’s journey of servitude will continue and your contribution is everlasting.  
Because of your support, since our beginning we have collectively achieved the impact 
below through our empowerment projects.

Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative, Sokodé. August 2017.

Maternal Care:
  • 4,832 Maternal Healthcare Recipients
School Construction:    
  • 12 Schools Built
  • 2,311 School Benches Built        
  • 36 Restrooms Built for Students
School Supplies Distribution:    
  • 34,640 School Supply Recipients             
  • 59,775 Trees Planted
Bicycle & Eyeglasses Distribution:
  • 8,253 Bikes Distributed 
  • 25,588 Eyeglasses distributed

Clip: Opening Ceremony of Nadagou School, Togo 

Still, numbers cannot capture the full magnitude of the impact; you must imagine 
the many lives behind these numbers.  For example, a month ago, we finished 
the construction of a school in Nadagou, Togo as you will see on this video. 
Because you have helped build them a school, students in Nadagou will not 
unnecessarily lose their lives trying to cross the river to go the neighboring school.

Before the new school was built and during raining seasons, students have 
drowned crossing the river just to get to school.  It is inconceivable to me that in this 
same world, where a school bus picks up my children every morning and 
brings them home every afternoon, a child across the world can drown simply 
trying to get to school.  When this was brought to my knowledge, I could not stand
by without taking action. To me, nothing is worth more than a human life. It is one of 
the reasons why I fundamentally believe simply claiming fair trade is not enough 
for our motherland, we must go beyond label claims to achieve human dignity. 
In other words, we all must work to offer a noble existence for all people.

In addition to the new school, the children of Nadagou received
 bicycles from Alaffia to use for daily transportation.

Because you are part of the Alaffia family, I would like to share with you 
our outlook for 2018:

We will continue Alaffia’s mission both here in our great State of Washington, 
as well as our communities in West Africa. In the following images you see that we 
 are supporting a local social enterprise in Eastern Ghana to construct a traditional 
soap making facility. Not only will this provide additional economic opportunities, 
but it will expand our gender equality initiatives in Ghana next year. 
Also in Ghana, we will add another 1,000 women to the 5,000 strong basket weavers 
currently under contract with Alaffia. Last month, I was in Bolgatanga, visiting 
Alaffia’s weavers, and the women told me they want nothing more than the opportunity 
to weave baskets to support their families.

In November, I met with Alaffia basket weavers near Bolgatanga, Ghana
to hear their experiences and collaborate.

Building facility for traditional soap making in Kede, in the eastern region of Ghana.

To continue our moral obligation of empowering the voiceless, both economically and 
socially, we must continue to expand Alaffia’s current market base and diversify our 
retailers and product innovation offerings. Therefore, next year, we plan to introduce
a series of new products into new markets. Every space on every shelf is an 
opportunity to empower humanity and create economic justice. Every time a shelf is 
stocked at night, when many of us are sleeping, it is a chance for a baby to be safely 
born. We all contribute in our own ways.

On another note, many of you know that Togo is going through some political uncertainties.
Although some may say we should retreat, we believe this is exactly the time to 
economically support the poor -- to continue to create jobs -- by growing Alaffia in 
the USA. Please rest assured that due to our expanded sourcing in Togo, Burkina Faso 
and Ghana, we have access to the materials we need to make our skincare products. If anything, this gives us an opportunity to empower more communities, and gain access to new
and exciting ingredients. We do however pray that peace rains upon Togo soon.

We are updating our packaging throughout 2018.
Our refreshed packaging will focus on three main elements:

Preview of Alaffia branding alignment in 2018

1) Brand unification

2) Coherent communication

3) A re-emphasis on our moral obligation to continue to be the most ethical
supplier of traditional, handcrafted shea butter in our market.

Rose, our daughters and I are heading to Togo and Ghana in a couple days, both for work 
and to get some family time. I hope that during these holidays you, too, get some time 
with your family. Finally, I hope you have recognized the crucial role you play in the
Alaffia mission, and I can only thank you with all my being.  
Here’s to a joyful and healthy 2018.

Peacefully yours,


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Alaffia's New Shea Cooperative

Dear friends of Alaffia,

It is my sincere wish that this note finds you and your family in good health.  Six weeks ago, I promised to update you on Alaffia’s progress in establishing a new cooperative in northern Togo near the village of Djapak.  A couple of weeks ago, I returned from working with our team in Djapak and put together this brief video as an update on the cooperative and to give you a sense of this difficult area.  As you can see, while fair trade is important, it is simply not enough to raise our communities out of extreme poverty. I will keep you posted on our progress in the months going forward. To me, Alaffia’s new cooperative in Djapak is only possible because of your continuing support, for which I cannot thank you enough.

On behalf of all of us at Alaffia, please accept our deepest gratitude for your care and support.  Your individual actions contribute to the betterment of lives of individuals in our most impoverished communities.

I wish you a peaceful and happy spring.

Peacefully yours,


Thursday, March 9, 2017

An Update From Olowo-n'djo

Dear Friends of Alaffia,

Olowo-n’djo and “Ina”, his mother, July 2015
It is my wish that this letter finds you and your family in good health.  As many of you know, I have spent most of the past months traveling back and forth between the United States and Togo. For me, the past year has been difficult. Aside from managing the increasingly complex organization that is Alaffia, I also lost the person I love and admire the most – my dear mother.  The loss of my mother has led me to look within myself and question my beliefs and dedication to the empowerment of the less fortunate.  After several months of traveling in Togo and witnessing the continuing suffering of humanity, I believe my mother would want me to stay on course regardless of the difficulties. I must also attribute my renewed strength to the kindness and support many of you have given to me, and for this I am grateful to you.  

Olowo-n’djo expressing frustration with Togo television 
reporter during donation of medical supplies, Sokode Togo. 
December 2016.
The main reason for my recent trips to Togo was to participate in the furnishing of outdated emergency rooms in the regional hospitals in Sokodé and Bassar. Alaffia collaborated with Project C.U.R.E. to provide medical equipment and supplies to these two hospitals, one polyclinique and four village health clinics that altogether serve more than 1.5 million people.  During the ceremony at the Sokodé main hospital, I expressed during my speech that I had lost a sister at this hospital and she and my beloved mother could be alive today had this hospital had the appropriate equipment. This was reason enough for Alaffia to undertake this project, without taking into account Alaffia’s belief that it is one’s duty to prevent the unnecessary deaths of the poor. On Togolese national TV later, I was as asked why Alaffia is providing medical equipment. By this time I was frustrated, and answered that without the shea nuts coming from the Sokodé area, we would not have shea butter to sell in the United States, and the source of poverty is the history of one-way trade, where resources are taken out of Africa without adequate compensation. I went on to say that my soul and existence cannot withstand seeing the suffering of the people and do nothing. In a sense, what makes one a human being is our moral responsibility to community and a dedication of his or her life to the betterment of human kind.  Furthermore, because I know the Togolese government does not yet understand that a business can exist simply to do well, I explained that I am simply serving my purpose of existence and have no other ulterior motive.
Olowo-n’djo, US Ambassador David Gilmour, Togo Government and Health Officials and Alaffia Empowerment Managers at distribution ceremony for donated medical supplies in Sokodé, Togo, December 2016
Ancestral mountain overlooking Nano, Togo, near the site for the 
new Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative in Djapak, Togo
The second reason for my last travels to Togo was to begin construction of our new cooperative in the North.  I’m pleased to inform you that this work was begun in the Djapak, a village in the mountainous area of northern Togo in the Moba ethnic region.  On more than one occasion, men from this region have told me women are inferior beings.  This misguided belief has convinced me even more than ever that this is a place Alaffia must be. We cannot at once bring about gender equality, but I believe that with the economic impact that Alaffia will bring to women in Djapak in five years, as we have in other regions of Togo, men will no longer view women as subhuman.  The shea butter cooperative will employ 200 women by February 2018 and we will have fair trade contracts with over 3,800 shea nut collectors in the surrounding region, bringing much needed income every year to thousands of women and their families. 
Olowo-n’djo, US Ambassador David Gilmour, and the Prefet of Tandjouare lay the
ceremonial first stone of the Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative in Djapak, Togo.

Olowo-n’djo, Abide Awesso and Alaffia team locate best areas to drill for
water for new Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative in Djapak, Togo.

Moba woman (left) and children of Djapak (above),
 beneficiaries of the new Alaffia Shea Butter Cooperative and
Shea Nut Collectives in Northern Togo.

In addition to these two new initiatives, Alaffia was also busy last year with our ongoing programs, including: 

Bicycles distributed to 382 new students.
School supplies distributed to 9,142 students.
Latrines built and installed at four high schools.
293 safe births funded.
Eyeglasses distributed to 1,167 individuals.
4,450 fruit, fuel wood and forage trees planted.
406 school benches constructed and distributed. 

There are many reasons why I share all that we accomplished last year in Togo, but most of all it is because I believe I owe you an explanation and report to you where funds from your Alaffia purchases are going.  However, I also do not want to underestimate the economic impact Alaffia has in our great state of Washington, where our team is over 115 strong, and where we purchase over 80% of our total packaging materials within a three state radius, instead of sourcing from overseas.  We believe the caring I have embodied for my motherland should be equal for America. After all, my wife and partner, Rose, is as American as it gets.

Now, our vision for this coming year is not only to continue our empowerment projects, but to do more. This year, we have engaged in a partnership with the USAID to plant 500,000 trees in northern Togo over the next three years.  Furthermore, we have pledged to distribute 1,600 bicycles to encourage girls in four different regions of Togo to stay in school, and we have doubled our team in Bassar so we can extend Alaffia’s quest to eradicate female genital mutilation in Togo to the Kara region. To me there is no freedom or moral existence of human kind until women in our communities have the right to say no to their genitals being cut off. 

Alaffia’s new packaging and line extension focusing on neem and turmeric role out beginning April 15, 2017.
In order to continue these just causes, we need to increase funding, and since the funding of these initiatives comes from the sales of our products, we have developed a series of line extensions to be available over the next three months, and to take our packaging to the next level.  As I have always said and believe, Africans do not need handouts, we simply need a place to trade our unique resources at a fair price so we can take our destiny in our own hands. And by formulating quality and ethical products, we are providing you something of equal exchange.

Association of Washington Business | Grow Here
Planting the Seed 
Onward, I will be returning to Togo in a couple weeks to continue the above objectives, and I will return to the United States in early April with four of our top managers, a team of women I call the “Alaffia Empowerment Council.” We will then tour several major cities for the month of April so our Togolese leaders can thank you first hand for your support and express their gratitude to your customers through community events at select stores. We will be grateful for a place to stay through this tour; our regional managers will be providing you with schedule details by March 22.

Until next time, from my heart and on behalf of the many souls Alaffia has touched both here in the United States and in Togo because of your support, I humbly kneel down before you to present to you my gratitude. I wish you and your entire family a healthy and peaceful year.

Yours humbly,