Togo to School

In August and September, we gear-up for “back to school” as we buy school supplies, fill out forms, sign-up for special activities, and work out which corner our children will be picked up by yellow school buses. In the developing world, simple basic and fundamental needs for education are often in high demand but are met with limited resources and infrastructure. PRESENCE, in partnership with The Alaffia Foundation, has taken a small but meaningful step to help a community in need in the tiny country of Togo by building a school Tambonga. Togo is a Western African nation located on the Gulf of Guinea and is the 12th poorest country in the world. The country is known for its palm-lined beaches, hilltop villages and shea nuts. Shea nuts are harvested and made into shea butter – the base for body care moisturizers. 

PRESENCE’s interest in Togo and this project was sparked by Karen Farrell, PRESENCE’s Vice President of Brand Services.  Karen first learned of Alaffia’s lofty missions to create sustainable economies, schools, and fair trade in Togo in 2006 when she met Olowo-n’djo Tchala at an event co-sponsored with the Whole Foods Market North Atlantic Region. Olowo-n’djo Tchala and his wife Prairie Rose Hyde (Rose) fell in love in Togo while Rose was working for the Peace Corps. Olowo-n’djo, a native of Togo, moved to the US and they founded their first Shea Butter Cooperative in 2003. 

Alaffia is a brand with a purpose: exceptional products creating good in the world. We have heard the story before, but few have as deep of roots as the Alaffia team. Not only do they build financial cooperatives, jobs, and schools to better lives – they provide bicycles and eyeglasses to those communities. It is direct to the source – taking nothing for themselves. GACE, The Global Alliance for Community Empowerment also known as The Alaffia Foundation, is the non-profit organization Olowo-n’djo Tchala and Rose created to flow as much funding as possible to the social missions.

Over the last two years, PRESENCE created OnePresence, focused on our culture, our partners, and our communities as we work to create a world that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. The missions of Alaffia aligned closely with OnePresence, so Karen reached out to find out the logistics around building our own school. OnePresence was excited to support the project, so PRESENCE employees initiated fundraising efforts with personal donations, a 5K run, walk, skip, or bike with PRESENCE matching every dollar raised. One-hundred percent of all fundraising efforts was sent to the Alaffia Foundation for the school construction.

In the late spring of 2022, more than 300 people assembled for the official inauguration of the Tambonga school building. Traditional and community leaders assembled including the Tambonga Canton Chief, the President of the Cantonal Development Committee, representatives from the Education Ministry, women from the local community who collect the shea nuts and of course, students, parents, and educators for the new school. Women collectors of shea nuts treated the guests with song and dance before and after the ceremony. The Chief of the Canton of Tambonga welcomed the assembled. In his speech, the Canton Chief thanked Alaffia at length via its GACE structure for all the actions in favor of the most vulnerable and in particular, the Kpendjal West area. He recalled the donations received by the area over the past three years: bicycles for the poorest and most remote students, maternal health for very poor pregnant women and the purchase of fair price shea kernels from the women nut collectors in Canton. For him, the “new school building reinforces the actions already undertaken by Alaffia via GACE and above all solves a major problem of lack of rooms at CEG Tambonga and safety for learners. This should improve their learning conditions”. Finally, the Canton Chief implored the blessing of God on Alaffia and PRESENCE and the various field teams without forgetting all the other people who help Alaffia in the implementation of social projects. The highlight of the inauguration ceremony was the cutting of the symbolic ribbon at the entrance of the new school building. The last activity was a tour of the rooms of the new building.

Helping those in need who provide us with essential services and ingredients brings new meaning to “back to school”. The Tambonga community will now be able to prepare for “back to school” just like we enjoy. For more information, visit the website for GACE and the foundation – Who Are We? | Global Alliance for Community Empowerment: Alaffia Foundation.