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The main reason for my recent trips to Togo was to participate in the furnishing of outdated emergency rooms in the regional hospitals in Sokodé and Bassar.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,