Monday, November 12, 2007


The TV station...very early in the morning

On the set of "Bon Matin" with Yoland Kuidou

Cote D'Ivoire's biggest reggae singer, Solo Jah Gunt, myself and Rhene at the TV station

The man in orange is the revolutionary leader of Cote D'Ivoire.

The Ivorian ladies carried everything on their heads. I don't know how they do it.

Me and Madame Coolibali Adom at her offices. She's the new Minister of Family Services in Cote D'Ivoire and is of great help to us.

The road to the beach in Grand Basam

This was the view from the restaurant where we had lunch overlooking the riverside in Grand Basam.

Visitng Emmanuel in Grand Basam

Visiting with Emmanuel and his host "mommy" in Grand Basam just before I left Cote D'Ivoire

Sunday, November 11, 2007

DAY FIVE and the last...

Ok, I know I've started all of these entries with "I got up early" and I did, but on this day, I got up 4:15am, before the Sun was up so that Benedict, Rhene and myself could appear on "Bon Matin", the biggest morning TV talk show in the country. Picture "Good Morning America" but in Africa. It was a surreal thing to be in hair and make-up, getting wired for sound and worrying about camera angles on this trip but it was a great opportunity for us to speak to the nation about Children's Hope and The Next Right Thing.

Our host on the show was a woman named Yoland Kuidou, sort of the Ivorian Oprah, and we all had a great time bantering about my travels, taking calls on the air and getting the word out about what we're doing.

By the time we were through with the interview, the phones were lit up and people had come to the TV station to ask us to help their children. It was truly touching, overwhelming and heartbreaking. It made me realize just how many children need our help in, not only this city but in the country and continent.

Afterwards, I got to meet one of the one of the biggest Reggae singers in the country, Solo Jah Gunt, who was at the station to promote his latest album. He gave me a copy and it's great. If you can find it on itunes or somewhere I highly recommend him.

When we walked out of the building, we were met by the owners of the TV station and some members of Parliament who praised us for our efforts and promised to help. They also, knowing I am an actor, offered up the TV station and anything one might need, to make a movie there so, if anyone out there wants to make a movie in Cote D'Ivoire, you know...we're in.

After that, we walked out into the parking lot and all of a sudden two Mercedes with dark tinted windows pulled up abruptly and a small but foreboding man dressed in an orange shirt and orange cap emerged surrounded by a bunch of big intimidating guys. I asked Benedict who it was and he and Rhene got excited and said it was the guy I mentioned before who is like the Che Gueverra of Cote D'Ivoire. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name. They "presented" me to him and I felt like I was meeting the "Godfather".

When we left the station, we began a massive search for an ATM that would accept my bank card because I originally thought I was only staying in Abidjan for a couple of days and had run out of cash at this point. We literally scoured the entire city and went to about a dozen ATMs to find out that, due to the vast amount of credit card fraud on the continent, my bankcards were essentially useless. Being stuck in Africa, broke was interesting. Luckily, Cori Stern of the Next Right Thing payed for my hotel through Paypal with some of the money I had raised and I had packed alot of Powerbars in my carry on. Next time I'll plan a little better...

This was my last day in Abidjan and my flight was to leave at 10pm and I really wanted to see the ocean while I was there so we decided to go to a beautiful little beach town called Grand Basam. This was perfect because it was also where Emmanuel's host family lived so I'd get a chance to check in with him and make sure he was settled with good people before I left.

Grand Basam is basically a peninsula with the ocean on one side and a beautiful river with marsh on the other. We all took a little walk on the beach, which was beautiful, had a great lunch on the river side of the town and then went to see Emmanuel.

We went to an orphanage for little girls where Emmanuel's host mother works and while Benedict and Rhene went in to try to find her, I heard the kids playing out back in the yard and went to say hello. These little girls were adorable. I'm pretty sure they had never seen a white person...ever because when they saw me, they all ran away screaming and laughing. I squatted so I was their height and just smiled and they slowly started to approach me with complete wonder. I held out my hand, kept smiling and they slowly came around and realized that I was harmless. I told them in my best French that I was very happy to meet them and we started running around and playing. It sounds corny but it was amazing to connect with these little kids and realize that I was making an impression on them as the first American they'd ever seen and that the impression was of love and happiness. It'd be nice if that were the impression we, as Americans, could leave everywhere in the world...

Anyhow, Emmanuel's host mother was not at the orphanage because she had gone home for the day so we went to her house. When we got there, I was relieved to find a beautiful apartment that seemed like a very cared for home. I sat down on the couch and all of a sudden, Emmanuel came out. He gave me a big beaming smile, jumped into my arms and shouted, "Todd! Come meet my mommy!" I just laughed as he dragged me over to meet this wonderful woman who had clearly developed a strong affection, just as I did for him in a very short time. I was relieved and felt that I could now leave Cote D'Ivoire knowing Emmanuel would be happy and loved. As I walked down the long corridor out of the apartment, little Emmanuel stood at the other end and just stared at me and waved goodbye. Once again, it was really hard to leave him...

That evening, all of the guys drove me to the airport to give me a proper send off. As I said goodbye to Bendict, Rhene and the others I was sad and promised to return and keep working with them. I look forward to realizing our dreams of helping many more children. Just as I had connected and formed a deep bond with Emmanuel in a short time, I also fell in love with Abidjan and it's people and I hope to return for many years.


A section of the SIR Refinery in Abidjan...

Rhene and Trabi walking into the office building at the refinery. I couldn't take pictures inside unfortunately.

Here I am with the ladies who run Manhattan Suites in the hotel's courtyard. They were incredibly sweet and ran a tight ship.

Emmanuel II...

Benedict, his aunt and myself with Emmanuel II and his family in Abobo

Birthday party for Rhene's wife.


Today I woke up early because we had a meeting at the biggest oil refinery in Cote D'Ivoire. Apparently Cote D'Ivoire is known for being one of the largest suppliers of both Coffee and Oil in the region. It's big business in Africa and is one of the main reasons France colonized Cote D'Ivoire and remains as it's occupying force...hence, the recent civil war and persistent resentment of the French. One side note-I discussed economics and international politics with people at great lengths while I was in Cote D'Ivoire which, once again, confirmed for me the harsh reality of our world; the most powerful countries like to take over the little ones, either subtly or overtly, and exploit them for profit. For more on this, please read the book, "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins or any Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky books...

Anyhow, we had a meeting with Georgette Nogbou, the secretary general of the SIR Refinery Foundation and basically gave her a really heartfelt and professional pitch of Children's Hope. It went well and I felt like the guys were glad that I was there to help. Georgette seemed impressed that their work had reached people in the US enough to have an American show up at her office.

After leaving the refinery and travelling the hour back to the Children's Hope offices, I learned from Benedict that Ephrahim's passport, which we were supposed to have by today, had been rerouted to another administrative official's office in the country for some more bureaucratic red tape and wouldn't be in our hands for another week to a month. This kind of thing is not uncommon in West Africa. We worked hard all day trying to communicate with the government and get the process expedited and when that didn't work, we tried various other strategies like just taking Ephrahim with the incorrect passport and just paying for the really expensive ticket but in the end, it was too much money and everyone felt weird about travelling internationally with a child who had incorrect information on his passport. So, sadly, I could not bring Ephrahim back to the US. I felt terrible as did Benedict and everyone else. I had met Ephrahim and his parents the day before and they are wonderful and very grateful for the help and it was crushing to tell them that they would have to wait longer. However, there are plans to get Ephrahim to the US soon so I left all of the baby supplies I brought with me with Benedict, for the next escort to use with Ephrahim.

I should mention here that, while it may appear from this situation that the government is inflexible or difficult when we are just trying to help these kids, that is not entirely the case. In previous years, there has been some trouble with government officials and corruption as it relates to children's welfare but, recently, a new minister of family services has been appointed who I became friendly with and is AMAZING. Her name is Madame Coolibali Adom (excuse the spelling) and she has helped to turn over a new leaf in the government with respect to helping the children of Cote D'Ivoire. Emmanuel was the first child under her watch and she has assured us that there will be many more to come.

After the disappointing outcome with Ephrahim, we regrouped and Rhene, Benedict and Benedict's aunt drove me out to Abobo, the district most devastated by poverty and overpopulation, to see another child, ironically named Emmanuel as well. The say everyday in Abobo is "le guerre" which means "the war" in French. Not because there is actual combat but because the daily struggle to survive in this part of the city is so difficult. I don't have many pictures from traveling through Abobo because they told me not to pull out my camera in fear that someone would reach into the car while we were driving and snatch it.

When I met Emmanuel II, I was amazed at what a bright and gifted child he was. He's around six years old but somehow, seemed to have the depth and presence of an adult. He has some sort of heart problem that affects almost all of his senses and nearly every week he has some emergency where his mother has to drive him to the hospital. Now, the hospital is only about ten miles away but because the government has misspent the money to repair the roads in Abobo, the drive to and from the hospital takes her most of the day, and she still has to work. Even going to the hospital doesn't mean anything gets better for Emmanuel II because they are lacking the technology and capability to truly help him. He is hopefully going to come to the US for help soon.

Today was Rhene's wife's birthday so they had a party at Rhene's house in the evening. I got to really hang with the men of Children's Hope, whom I've now come to refer to as "THE KINGS OF COCODY" because thay really seem to be running the place and doing so much good. All of their girlfriends and wives were there as well. Again, we had great food, discussed alot of things, and danced to great music. These people are starting to feel like family.


The men of Children's Hope. They're pretty famous around Abidjan and they have such ambition that I started calling them "THE KINGS OF COCODY". It seemed to fit them and they liked it. They're holding the architectural plan for the international hospital.

A communications class at the university in Cocody. Rhene had to stop by to tell them that he couldn't be there this day as he had to take me around.

Some typical dormitories.

Student government leaders playing Xbox outside one of the dormitories. In the backround, Benedict is talking to one of them, asking permission for us to walk around the campus.

Students travel from everywhere to go to university. This was one of many bus stops.

Trabi, his wife, their baby, Benedict and myself in Yopougong.


Today, Benedict met me at Manhattan Suites for a little breakfast before we went on to visit the Children's Hope offices and then the University in Cocody.
The guys really want me to see every part of Abidjan; the good and the bad. I was really grateful for this because If they weren't there, I probably wouldn't have been able to see half of what I did and I really got to know the city and fell in love with it.

The offices of Children's Hope are located in a converted house in a beautiful part of Coody and I was surprised at how beautiful and professional they were. These guys all met at the university and decided to go into business together so they formed a consulting company called TMBC (Training,Management,Business,Consulting) which is how they generate income to support Children's hope. It's modeled after every major corporation in Abidjan which are required by the government to have a philanthropic subdivision. Within Children's Hope, there are men with communications and business degrees as well as engineers and doctors. They've brought together some strong and driven people and have big plans, the most ambitious of which is to build a hospital in Abidjan with the modern technology and capabilities of an American hospital so that people don't have to travel all the way to the US for basic care. The plan for this hospital is amazing and I hope to stay involved with the these guys long enough to see it become a reality.
From the offices, we left to go tour the university. Every person in Cote D'Ivoire is required by the government to attend one of the universities in the country so, student life is a huge part of the culture. There are both private and public universities. We went to the one in Cocody where all the guys went. It was an amazing place with great facilities and resembled a typical American university with, of course, some West African flare. Because everyone goes to university, it is a tremendously important part of the culture and it really feels like the students have made it their own and created a home there. There are open markets everywhere within the campus just like in the surrounding town and there's alot of studying and fun to be had.
The most interesting thing that I discovered here was that because everyone is required to attend a university, students are the largest organized body of citizenry in the country and are also completely autonomous and independent from the government. They are, in fact, there own political group and as it is such a large group, the students wield alot of power in the country. There are democratically elected student governments which control the student body and can declare strikes and actually organize a national revolution! I was astonished. Imagine that in the US! The current Ivorian president came to power as a result of being a former student body president, and the biggest revolutionary leader in Cote D'Ivoire(Their Che Gueverra) began his revolution as a student president mobilizing the students. As we toured the university we had to check in with the student governments in each area of the campus which was usually a bunch of twenty-something guys hanging out in the quad looking very intimidating. They, however, welcomed me everywhere.
In the evening, the guys took me to an area of Abidjan called Yopougong which is a very overpopulated and somewhat poor area but is also considered to be the "hip" and affordable place for young people so it's a fun place. This is also where Trabi is from and his wife just had a baby so we got to visit with his newly expanded family. In Cote D'Ivoire, when a woman gives birth, it's tradition that her mother moves in with the family to help take care of the household and baby so I also got to meet his mother-in-law.
After spending some time with Trabi's family, we went out on the town and ate some great food, heard great music and met some wonderful people.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Emmanuel trying to wink back at me...

Emmanuel in the van on our way to drop him off.

Rhene, Trabi and Benedict with a beautiful family and their daughter who was helped by The Next Right Thing.

Laman is a candidate for the services of The Next Right Thing...

Trabi and Rhene after a long day and a great dinner...


Meeting Emmanuel at JFK

Emmanuel after arriving in Paris

A little snack at the Paris airport

The orphanage that Emmanuel came from

Emmanuel reconnecting with old friends...