Dreams realised after five days work in Cote d’Ivoire

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! Accra - Abobo 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.Abobo Abidjan - Abengourou 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.  DSCN1974DSCN1969DSCN1971We 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!

Meeting with Director of Youth, Sport & Leisure, Abengourou 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! Roi d'Abengourou

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.

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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!

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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

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The difference between Orphans and Trafficked Children

Following a conversation earlier with an organisation who has signed up to the Fair Labor Association; we realised the need to examine the ‘difference’ between an orphan and a trafficked child.

An orphan – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan

A trafficked child – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafficking_of_children

“This can stem from a dangerous “movement” stage of trafficking or from specific aspects of the “exploitation” stage, such as hazardous working conditions. Moreover, trafficked children are often denied access to healthcare, effectively increasing their chances of serious injury and death.[2] Trafficked children are also often subject to domestic violence; they may be beaten or starved in order to ensure obedience.[2] In addition, these children frequently encounter substance abuse; they may be given drugs as “payment” or to ensure that they become addicted and thus dependent on their trafficker(s).[2] As opposed to many other forms of crime, the trauma experienced by children who are trafficked is often prolonged and repeated, leading to severe psychological impacts.[70] UN.GIFT reports that trafficked children often suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions.[70]

Effects on families are also severe. Some families believe that sending or allowing their children to relocate in order to find work will bring in additional income, while in reality many families will never see their trafficked children again.[2] In addition, UN.GIFT has found that certain forms of trafficking, particularly sexual exploitation in girls, bring “shame” to families.[70] Thus, in certain cases, children who are able to escape trafficking may return to their families only to find that they are rejected and ostracized.”

Orphans can be trafficked, trafficked children are put to work.

Trafficked children often have higher emotional & educational needs.

The two groups need different attention & support.

C.R.E.E.R is working for trafficked children, orphans or not!  The need for such a centre has already been identified on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire & Ghana due to the lack of these two critical elements of emotional & educational support for ‘our’ group of children.

Your assistance to rehabilitate these children is appreciated in whatever form it may be available!

Advocacy or Action?

It’s been mentioned before, there isn’t a centre in the sub-region of West Africa that solely caters for trafficked children.  Please search google; we cannot find much about what is happening to the trafficked children, but lots of advocacy about them.  Very little action.

Due to ‘M’ the little girl who was found on the beach; C.R.E.E.R was created as we recognised her needs and those of many children that have been trafficked into slavery.  They go to orphanages, who don’t have the specialist needs to cater for the emotional needs of the children.

Those are the lucky ones, others are living in the streets having escaped but lost as to where to call ‘home’ having travelled many miles with their trafficker.  Without money to return home, scared of adults who may return them to their lives of slavery; they live in the streets living on the scraps they can find.

We’ve always stuck by our claim that we’re the first residential centre offering rehabilitation, education and vocational skills  in West Africa to be created solely for trafficked children; until this week!

Cote d'Ivoire 4 Cocoa growers using trafficked children

A few days ago we came across another centre.  Not entirely the same but not entirely different.  During a phone call to their offices, there were a lot of similarities.  They cater for children from Lake Volta in Ghana who are trafficked to work in the fishing industry.  Most of the fish isn’t exported so there’s not so much advocacy about it as there is with cocoa production, domestic servitude or prostitution; where the majority of C.R.E.E.R’s future generation are expected to come from.

An incredible conversation, hearing very similar thoughts to what we’ve been dealing with:

1.  No one else has a centre in the region, they believe they are the first, although they are mainly working with children from the lake.  We are now the second in the West African sub-region.

2.  It took them over 18 months to obtain their land; they also experienced endless meetings, false promises and wild goose chases.

3.  Local traditions, culture, bureaucracy; they have experienced a lot in Ghana that we’ve experienced in Cote d’Ivoire (& are still experiencing!)

However, we no longer feel as if we’re scraping in the dark with a speck of light at the end of a long tunnel.  Their organisation is going from strength to strength; there are facets that we would like to introduce at C.R.E.E.R particularly their art therapy.

So, advocacy is all very well, but action is needed too.  We need more help to make our centre a reality & gain action from committed individuals to help fundraise!