Building community with Bikes for Education

Sound Consumer | February 2008

by Marilyn Walls

(February 2008) — The relationship between the Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care Company and PCC is all about providing quality products and building community — from one co-op to another.

Now Alaffia and PCC are working together for Alaffia’s Bikes for Education program. It involves collecting used bikes and shipping them to the Alaffia community in Togo, Africa, so the children can get to school.

The children in Togo have to walk about 10 miles a day to get to and from school. Without bikes to help them on their way, the children often miss school to take care of family obligations.

In Alaffia’s Bikes for Education program, used bicycles are collected, crated and shipped overseas to help keep the children going to school. Alaffia covers the cost of shipping. Its founder knows that each and every bike is life-changing.

The founder of the Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care company, Olowo-n’djo Tchala, grew up in the poverty in Togo, where half the people subsist on less than $1 a day and life expectancy is just 41 years.

He met his wife Rose while she served in the Peace Corps (Rose grew up in Washington’s Okanogan highlands), moved to Olympia, and founded Alaffia.

He says he has dedicated his life to supporting the culture of his people while promoting indigenous natural resources that are culturally, economically and ecologically sustainable. Traditionally handcrafted, Fairly Traded African shea butter fits these criteria. It’s the staple ingredient of Alaffia’s body care products sold at PCC.

Shea trees grow wild across the Togo savannah, requiring no fertilizers or pesticides. The outer fruit, looking much like an avocado, is an important food while the inside nuts are saved for making shea butter.

Olowo-n’djo formed a cooperative to collect and extract the shea butter, enabling people to use their traditional knowledge to support their families. Eighty women carefully wash and dry the nuts, then use waist-high wooden pestles to grind and pound them.

There are three men in the cooperative. “These three men,” says Olowo-n’djo, “they lift things. There is no fork lift.” The most critical step is crystallization, requiring a wealth of traditional knowledge and experience from the elders as they finalize creation of this emollient.

In contrast, industrial shea butter comes from plantation-grown nuts exported to European countries. The oil is extracted with hexane and other chemical solvents. Beneficial antioxidants and vitamins are stripped away, cheating the consumer. But also the shea nut trade is dominated by a series of middlemen, diminishing to a pittance the price that gatherers receive.

Alaffia’s raw, unrefined shea becomes the base for its shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, lip balms and soaps. They’re produced locally in Olympia, Wash., in small batches with other wild-harvested and fairly traded ingredients. Artificial preservatives, parabens and petroleum derivatives are prohibited. None of Alaffia’s products ever are tested on animals.

Scientific research shows that shea butter has properties that nourish the skin, ease pain, prevent scars and heal burns. Also, at this time of year, shea butter may be helpful in relieving congestion when rubbed topically on the sinus area, as a comfort for dry, cracked skin, and for sore joints.

As part of its Fair Trade philosophy, 10 percent of Alaffia’s sales go to community enhancement projects in Africa. These include a reforestation project, school roofs, school supplies, and the Fousena Fund to provide prenatal care and midwives for women.

One in 14 women in Togo dies from complications in pregnancy or childbirth; Olowo-n’djo’s sister Fousena was one of them. The nonprofit Fousena Clinic was founded in her memory and now proudly celebrates 12 healthy babies and no deaths.

From co-op to co-op, PCC shoppers can feel good knowing that their purchases — and their used bikes — are helping to transform life with this small but passionate company.

During the month of February, Alaffia’s entire line of products — shampoos, conditioners, lotions, creams, lip balms and soaps — will be 15 percent off the regular retail price.

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More about: Alaffia Sustainable Skin Care, Fair Trade, health and body care products

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