‘Future of Africa’ visits Olympia

Local company uses ingredients from Togo in its products

ahobbs@theolympian.comMarch 1, 2014 

Ibada Tchala, left, and Abide Awesso, who are visiting the area from the West African nation of Togo, meet with Secretary of State Kim Wyman during a tour Friday at the Capitol.

ANDY HOBBS/STAFF WRITER

After waiting eight years, two women from the West African nation of Togo finally have come to America.

They work for Alaffia, an Olympia-based company that empowers women on two continents. Abide Awesso and Ibada Tchala are among 500 women employed by Alaffia, which makes bath and body care products with ingredients from Togo.

Alaffia pays Togo’s all-female staff fair wages and benefits. The company also directs 10 percent of its budget toward maternal care, school construction and environmental initiatives in a nation where women are marginalized.

“To truly get out of poverty, we needed to create a workplace,” said Alaffia founder Olowo-n’djo Tchala about raising the quality of life for women and children in his native homeland. “I always said the future of Africa is these young ladies.”

Founded in 2003, the company employs 63 at its Olympia factory and is on track to generate $20 million in revenue this year.

The money set aside for Togo has helped thousands of people. Awesso and Tchala, who specialize in maternal health and community projects, said fewer females in Togo die during childbirth or from infections caused by ritual circumcision, for example.

Alaffia also collects and donates thousands of bicycles for young women in Togo who would otherwise walk several miles to and from school.

Awesso and Tchala plan to spend a month in the United States on a work visa, which was granted after eight years and a plea by state lawmakers. The U.S. Embassy in Togo had denied the women entry out of concern that they wouldn’t go back home.

The women’s goal, however, is to bring insight back home. Their business trip began about two weeks ago in Texas to meet with Whole Foods, which is Alaffia’s largest customer. Alaffia founder Tchala and his wife, Rose Hyde, are taking their guests to stores for customer interaction and a glimpse of U.S. business relationships.

On Friday, they all met with state Rep. Chris Reykdal and Secretary of State Kim Wyman during a tour of the Capitol. The visitors were impressed at Wyman’s election as the second female secretary of state in Washington history.

As they parted, Ibada Tchala told Wyman: “A woman shall always be ahead.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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