Eco-Interview: Raphael Marius, Kiroja: Discover Something Wonderful

When was your organization founded? Please tell us a bit about its mission, goals…

I started Kiroja in July of 2010. However, the idea of starting something like Kiroja began to take root in sometime in 2000. In fact, I think I originally purchased the domain name around that same time. However, it wasn’t until an injury I sustained while visiting Morocco, that I really started to become more serious about the idea. It still took two more years before I did anything about it.

As far as our mission is concerned, Kiroja is committed to creating quality natural products, supporting women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, and championing education in its many forms. As an organization, we source our products from women run co-ops and organizations that support women’s empowerment. In support of entrepreneurship, we have donated capital equipment to help small enterprises take the next step in their development. As individuals, we have volunteered our time to organizations and schools as near as your local elementary school, to schools and organizations in South Africa.


What is your educational background and what lead to creating this organization?

I have a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in international education. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of something like Kiroja began way back in the year 2000. While recovering from the injury I had sustained in Morocco, I had time to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This led to my graduate pursuits and trips to Ghana, New Mexico, and India to meet with women operated cooperatives and partnerships.

What are some challenges you have faced and how did you deal with them?

A major challenge we faced early on was related to quality control. The sources that we deal with don’t have sophisticated machinery or delivery systems. As a result, we would often receive products, like soap that varied in size and shape. Or prepackaged products were also not in great shape when they arrived. Changes in temperature during the shipping process caused leakage and other issues. Since the co-ops were not around the corner, or even in my home country. It wasn’t  easy returning damaged items for new ones. Also, what was the guarantee that the new items would be in any better shape?  There was another issue. I didn’t want to put a hardship on the women who ran the co-ops. They couldn’t be expected to constantly exchange damaged product for free. I actually had to put the company in mothballs for a bit to try and solve the problem. At one point, I almost decided to abandon the project and move on to something else.

It may sound weird, but it wasn’t until the middle of last year that I came up with a solution: formulate and package the products in the states. I worked with a designer to create a logo and labels. I switched from plastic containers to amber glass for our butters. I learned as much as possible about Shea Butter (both East and West), Argan Oil, product formulating, and a host of other things related to natural body care.


What can people do to help? Donate, and contribute to your cause? Other ideas?

People can help in many ways. Obviously, one way is to purchase our products. The more we sell, the more we can order from our sources. However, people can also help by volunteering their time to organizations that support education and women’s empowerment. One of the issues that is very important to me and formed the basis for my thesis research is getting men involved in preventing sexual and gender based violence.

How do you reach your targeted audience?

We do this in various ways. We take advantage of vending opportunities, like the Green Festival that just took place in April on Pier 94 in New York. We are on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. We also advertise in magazines like NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association). We also have our company website, Kiroja.com. You can also find our products in several NY and NJ stores. A couple of the stores that carry our products are actually organic farms.

Is it through your website, advertising or social media or another route? Which is most effective and why?

I think the best way has been word of mouth and when I actually get to talk to a potential customer. In those situations, I’m able to answer any questions they may have and talk about the quality of our products and our mission. This takes time. Although people are familiar with Shea butter, Argan Oil, and other products, They don’t always know the difference in quality. In some cases, what they have been buying may not even have been Shea Butter.

How do you keep the audience engaged over time?

What I try to do (though I’m not always consistent) is create blog posts and updates on Facebook. We notify our customers of upcoming events and opportunities. We also ask some of our customers to try samples of new products we are planning to launch.







Bringing Earth Day to the Jersey City Community with Green Dream

The stage is set.

Green Dream posters are in shop windows in Jersey City Heights and downtown Hoboken. This week, they will go up in uptown Hoboken and downtown Jersey City. More postcards are on the way and the newspaper advertising is about to begin.

This is all very exciting! Frogs Are Green, an environmental awareness organization, has mostly been an online presence in the last 5 years, so it’s wonderful to see shop owners embrace the cause and smile when they see the poster. They read what the Green Dream exhibition is about, and say, “Wow, how cool, Earth Day… Save the Frogs Day… Yeah!”


Green Dream is about bringing awareness to the Jersey City community, who may not know what’s happening to frogs on our planet and that frogs everywhere are disappearing. By showcasing selected artworks created by children around the world this April, local schools and after school arts programs in Hudson County will have the rare opportunity of seeing what children in far off lands think about frogs and the environment.

Some of the countries represented in this first exhibition at The Distillery Gallery and Artspace are: Hong Kong, Serbia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Thailand, The Philippines, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lithuania, Macedonia, South Africa, Kenya, Poland, Canada, Sri Lanka, Latvia, India, Indonesia, Australia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malaysia, and Bahrain.


I hope you will share this extraordinary event with others and support our Indiegogo fundraiser…there are just 6 days left!

Link to Campaign: http://igg.me/at/green-dream

— Susan Newman, founder, Frogs Are Green


Cape Town’s secretive inhabitant and pilot conservation species – the Western Leopard Toad

Written by Guest Blogger: Mark Day

Dusk ascends to cover the suburb of Bergvliet under a blanket of darkness. It brings with it the chill of a Wintery August night in Cape Town, South Africa, as a nippy breeze sweeps across the small urban wetland of Die Oog (an Afrikaans word meaning “The Eye”).

This man-made depression was originally dug out some 284 years ago to provide water for livestock on the neighbouring farm of Dreyersdal. In more recent years, however, Die Oog has come to serve a much greater purpose, as a pivotal breeding site for one of Cape Town’s most threatened amphibians, the western leopard toad Ameitophrynus pantherinus.

IUCN listed Amietophrynus pantherinus in Noordhoek - Photo by Maria Wagener of Fishhoek

As little as six years ago it was thought that only several such breeding sites remained in existence, for a species which has suffered massive population declines as a consequence of numerous threats including urban expansion, habitat destruction and population decimation through road kills. Today, conservationists and scientists with the aid of concerned volunteers and the public have listed a total of 52 breeding sites within the Cape Town range of the species. Further eastwards, some 150 kilometres away from southern Cape Town, a largely unprotected population comprising seven breeding sites exists.

Unlike most frogs which remain at water courses throughout the year, toads live in what’s termed ‘foraging areas’ where they lay dormant by day and hunt by night—with an exception for August month and there about when they migrate to and from local aquatic environments to breed. Presently, the majority of these foraging and breeding areas fall under urban suburbia, guaranteeing a window of constant interaction between these toads and the unknowing dangers their human neighbours pose.

Despite current conservation action and volunteer efforts to protect the Cape Town populations, census data from the 2009 breeding season only generated a recorded 1125 live migrants and 258 dead. Great strides have been achieved in recent years through a consistent increase in awareness of the plight of the species and in the recruitment of volunteers. The fate of the species is however uncertain—unless the citizens residing in these areas value their endemic and endangered leopard toad, there will merely remain stories of its once enigmatic nature and quiet existence.

For further details on the species, join the group on Facebook, The Endangered Western Leopard Toad or visit the website, www.leopardtoad.co.za.

Mark Day
Coordinator: Awareness, Volunteer & Census Operations
Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee

Email: leopardtoad@gmail.com

Websites: www.leopardtoad.co.za /  www.toadnuts.co.za

Facebook: The Endangered Western Leopard Toad