Arranging a trip to Cote d’Ivoire via Ghana in under a week is not for the faint-hearted, particularly when your visa for Ghana has expired! This is what happened just prior to Easter. The decision was made by C.R.E.E.R’s board that unless one of the board was on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire, nothing would move forward. The only option due to flights was to go via Accra. Thanks to good friends of C.R.E.E.R’s in London, one of the Founder’s passports was sent in advance to obtain another 2 year multiple entry visa for Ghana, to be issued in 24hours.
A quick turnaround in London and landed in Accra on the Wednesday evening. A lot of pleading on the Thursday before Good Friday (a public holiday in Ghana), the Ivorian Embassy went out of their way to assist the passage by bending all the rules. C.R.E.E.R’s founder managed to get a visa in 5hours rather than the normal 3 days due to the exceptional circumstances. Luckily the consul remembered the face having given a visa during the 2010/2011 crisis after much pleading then! Travelling by public transport to the Ghana-Ivorian border at Elubo/Noe on a public holiday is never all that enjoyable especially with an early 5am start! Finally at 7pm (14hrs later) on Good Friday evening C.R.E.E.R was re-united in Bassam with our Ivorian Director, Erick after 2 years of only contact over the internet and phone! After a mere 5 changes of transport to get there in the hot, cramped, uncomfortable conditions West African bush taxis always offer!
The few long 18+hr days of work started in earnest the next day with a base in the Abobo district of Abidjan. An Ivoirian board meeting didn’t go as planned due to various family commitments but we saw all the board members that Easter weekend around Abidjan. Monday morning; another early start to travel to Abengourou, a mere 193km away, however the road after Adzope is in a bad state. Four hours later, sore from the tightly packed minibus with homemade metal framed seats (& poor padding) we arrived in town. The founder had previously visited Abengourou in 2009 and remembered a few landmarks, but now we had to explore the town thoroughly to see it’s suitability. Erick had carried out a lot of the groundwork for C.R.E.E.R since last seeing him during the Ivorian crisis in January 2011. Our latest news was that King Nanan Boa Kouassi III of Abengourou was willing to donate land to the project; but to move this kind gesture forward our presence was needed on the ground. Abengourou is ideally situated for the project, with the border at Niable for Ghana under 20km away. Cote d’Ivoire’s 10th largest town, it has all the facilities that the project needs. It’s in a region of agriculture including cocoa, rubber & timber.
Our first few hours in town we got our bearings & immediately went to the hospital, Centre Hopitalier Regionale d’Abengourou to see the facilities and find a competent professional to join the team part-time. We met with Sylvie, a nurse, who was very interested in the project for Abengourou and agreed with us to work on a contractual basis. When we’re operational she will work with the centre, visiting on a fortnightly basis to check the children and advise on medical and dietary matters.
Tuesday morning dawned; Abengourou was suffering from a power cut so sleeping past 5.30am was impossible with the hotel room’s fan not working, a ‘mere’ 35 degrees by 8.30am!
We headed out to firstly visit our bank in town to start organising an account; quickly followed by a visit to the post office to enquire about a postal box. We were expected by the King at the Royal Court at 10am. However, his adviser sent us to the Director of Youth, Sport & Leisure who gave us an in-depth interview about the project, Erick had already been through this on a previous visit. They were alarmed by the story of ‘Zoe’s Ark’ they quizzed us at length to ensure our suitability. It was reassuring that they were taking C.R.E.E.R seriously and weren’t leaving any stone unturned!
Returning to the Royal Court, we sat with the notability; the King spoke through his spokesman to fully agree the project. He granted us our land and our presence in Abengourou to help street children, some of which are trafficking victims.
Elated, we departed for a late lunch prior to returning to the long road back to Abidjan! None of this would have been achieved without Erick’s hard work, his friend Charlemagne & Mamy, the King’s niece facilitating for C.R.E.E.R. Another long afternoon on the road in Charlemagne’s car; the Founder arrived in Grand Bassam at 10.30pm due to the roads and traffic!
Wednesday was due to be the day of departure to return to Accra but it wasn’t to be. Our NGO paperwork has been in order & many NGO’s work with the paperwork we had but there was one final formality that hadn’t moved forward & had to be organised prior to departure. Our paperwork had been sitting at the police station for 18months which wasn’t ideal considering Erick had made many trips to prompt the police to move it forward. Despite a call a few days earlier to inform the police we wanted a meeting, our presence was a revelation to them at 8am. We were told to return later in the morning; we duly took our place in an office at 10am to find that all our files on their computers had ‘vanished’ and it all had to be typed from scratch again. Frustration!!! After 4hours of sitting tight to ensure the papers were finally printed and sent to the correct office; the return journey to Accra was in sight, but for the following morning … Another early start at 4am to cross the border as it opened! Thrilled that C.R.E.E.R finally has a home in Cote d’Ivoire with a town that has welcomed us and wanting to work with us! It couldn’t have been a better trip!
A few shots of Abengourou