Lessons from Ina

 

My mother’s name is Ina. She raised me alongside seven other children in an 8’ x 10’ room in Kaboli Togo West Africa. You may think that sounds small, and frankly, it was, but there was never a shortage of love, integrity or kinship within those walls. These hallmarks of home made it feel large. She always led by example and welcomed others into our space, often sharing what little resources were available to us. I learned quickly that this kind of devotion to humanity is sacred, and that this way of living would become the springboard from which Alaffia was set in motion. There is no greater investment or more noble cause than to safeguard human dignity and basic rights. Alaffia is my way of honoring my mother since inheriting her deep desire to see our home country of Togo liberated through fair trade practices and the pioneering of our indigenous knowledge and handcrafting methods.

I have daughters of my own now and I sleep a little better at night knowing that they have opportunities before them that my mother and other women of her generation and locale did not. My mother did not have a college education or speak English well, but very simply put, she knew well, kind treatment from unjust. See, you shouldn’t have to earn respect and dignity or access to health care and education—these are rights that ought to be intrinsically yours at birth by virtue of taking your first breath. Until that’s so, our work is not done.

Ina’s influence on how to manage a women-led organization in a traditional setting was and continues to be the main guidepost for unity at Alaffia. My hope is that it sets a standard and presentence for other enterprises looking to do similar work. She helped me understand the importance of our cultural heritage, and it is this heritage that we preserve together with traditional recipes and methods of handcrafting indigenous ingredients.  She ensured that our cooperatives were built on an ideal of inclusivity to capture the full breadth of Togo’s 42 different ethnic groups in all their varying brilliance and unique qualities. As a result, Alaffia brings together people that may not otherwise relate to one another peacefully. My mother embodied a selfless existence which continues to guide me as we continue our mission.

 

I’m proud to say that today Alaffia has positively and directly impacted the lives of 347,145 people to date. I like to think that in an ethereal sense, my mother is to thank for that. My mother, and all the other women in my life who have left a nurturing print on my heart, inspire me to make this my life’s work and make each day about fighting for gender equality, birth advocacy and access to education. We celebrate what we call Ina day each year on the day after Mother’s Day. It’s a company paid holiday to commemorate Ina’s good will as well as our collective efforts at reaching equality and empowerment in her name.

 

If anything prepared me for the litany of events that have happened over the last few years within our global communities, from social injustice to a pandemic and war, it was my soulful mother, Ina. To her, I’m most reverently grateful to take up this task and breathe life into her vision. To the numerous mothers on Mother’s Day, I see your good work and to ­­­all who have contributed in big and small ways to our mission, I’m blessed by your support and feelings of immense progress as­ we move ever forward towards our goal.

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