Alaffia Pledge – Gender Equality and Community Empowerment

alaffiaStampOften when a passionate and enthusiastic person, concerned about human rights and environment, decides to focus their energy on making a difference they look to support charitable organizations that may offer funds, education and outreach to communities that either need help, or organizations of people that have the means to help others.

It’s an honorable and admirable move, to devote one’s work and life to helping others. And yet, it’s not the only way to make a difference.

Last week, MOMs hosted a staff lecture by the founder of one of our favorite vendor’s founder, Olowo-n’djo Tchala of Alaffia Skincare.

Alaffia O 1 Alaffia O 3Alaffia O 2

Alaffia has been a long-popular line at MOMs, with their fair trade shea butter products, including African black soap, lotions and haircare products made with neem, coconut, lemongrass, and goat’s milk. These extremely nourishing products are made from rich, native ingredients from West Africa, largely Togo. Just as important is the way in which, and by whom, the products are made.

When Olowo-n’djo was a child in Togo, which is considered by the UN to be one of the most impoverished countries in the world, he lived with his mother in an 8×7 shelter with 7 other siblings. He grew up seeing poverty and oppression looming over the people, especially the women, of his community. He also saw a rich heritage of artisan techniques that were passed down from one generation of women to the next. And he saw that formal education, reading and writing, were nearly unattainable by most women. Shea nuts, one of the few natural resources in the area, were stripped from the trees and sold to low-bidding European and American corporate buyers for a tiny fraction of its worth.

Eventually, having graduated from UC Davis later in life, he returned to Togo to find not much had changed for the better, and decided, with his wife Rose, to start a cooperative of women from various villages to harvest and make shea butter in the traditional way.

At the birth of Alaffia, Olowo-n’djo and Rose made a pledge to fight for gender equality and community empowerment through fair trade.

AlaffiaSheaMixingThe cooperative is owned by the women who make the shea butter, and with their fair trade wages and benefits they are able to support their families, send their children to school, and provide guidance and support to their impoverished communities.  Their traditional, artisan techniques that were once fading into the past are now valued and respected, and surviving.

Alaffia’s pledge is not just a slogan or a nifty graphic on the label – Olowo-n’djo and Rose, an ethnobotanist once stationed in Togo with the Peace Corps, have never quit finding new ways to turn Alaffia’s profits into growth and empowerment for the people of Togo:

AlaffiabikegirlsBicycles for education – the teen pregnancy rate is high amongst young women and girls, partly due to sex demanded as currency for “taxi” rides to school. Alaffia started a bike collection program in Olympia WA, where Olowo-n’djo and Rose live with their two daughters, which has supplied more than 5000 bicycles to kids in remote villages in Togo. A bike mechanic travels to the villages to help maintain the bikes year-round. The bikes allow many girls who would not be able to maintain a typically heavy load of household chores and walk a long distance to school, to be able to do both.

AlaffiaIbadaMaternalHealthMaternal health clinics – the rate of maternal morbidity is high in West Africa where an estimated 225 women and more than 1200 newborns die every day from complications from childbirth. Medical assistance and prenatal care are out of reach for nearly all women of Togo. Alaffia has started and supports multiple maternal health clinics which are making a difference in the lives of pregnant women and their families. In their first 4 years, the clinics have treated 740 women, and have incurred zero maternal deaths, and zero newborn deaths. Run by Olowo-n’djo’s youngest sister, Ibada, a trained midwife, the clinics also help combat the common practice of female excision (circumcision).

alaffiaschoolSchool support – Alaffia provides school construction, tin roofs, desks, seats and school supplies to various schools in Togo, which allows a better education opportunity for many students.

Environment & Reforestation – Trees in Togo are disappearing at an alarming rate, from both logging and for wood to cook and heat water. Alaffia plants fruit trees, and native shea trees to help provide environmental restoration as well as resources and food for the people of Togo.

AlaffiabasketsBasket-weaving cooperative – basket-making is another traditional, artisan skill that provides employment in the form of an Alaffia-made cooperative of women, much the same as the shea butter cooperative. Trees that have additional value besides wood, are better looked after and maintained by their communities.


To learn more about Alaffia and their work, check back later this week for the conclusion of this post.

Alyssa works in multiple MOMs locations.

About alyssabdh

Natural Health
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4 Responses to Alaffia Pledge – Gender Equality and Community Empowerment

  1. Pingback: A New Pledge | MOM's Organic Market

  2. Krista says:

    It’s amazing how we can make such an incredible difference without even “donating” a dime, but rather being more conscious about the products we buy. We CAN make a difference through the purchasing choices we make. Where is that money going? What is the benefit? Is that dollar making a difference? Does that dollar go towards something I agree with?

  3. alyssabdh says:

    This is a great point, Krista. In this day and age, so many consumers are outraged by the corporate power plays in this country. Most corporations give lots of money to various organizations and causes, whether they are crushing the rights of citizens, or feeding the needy. Its important for every consumer to realize that they can focus their purchases towards businesses that are supporting the values they believe in! Choosing fair trade products takes that step even further.

  4. Jules says:

    I’ve recently just discovered Alaffia, What an incredible organization. I started researching Alaffia after seeing their affordable products at my local Sprouts. I was surprised to find such affordable natural hair and body products. And when I learned about what these products are supporting, I was even more intrigued. It’s such an amazing way to make a difference.

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