My good friend Emmanuel Coulibaly has a son named Philippe. He’s a cute little fella. We got to know Philippe over the last few years because I visit his family all the time. Emmanuel helps me with my garden irrigation projects from time to time. When I run into a language problem, or feel that I need a second opinion about the depth of actual understanding a village people has about our community development plan, I’ll call in Emmanuel to come along with me to the village. He gets a great read on people, and simply having another voice to reinforce what I have been saying is very helpful.
Three years ago I designed a simple gravity feed drip irrigation system from locally available plumbing parts. Every part came from the Sikasso market. To date, there are not any simple drip irrigation supplies available in Sikasso, and I doubt in the whole of Mali. I needed to find a local solution, so that interested people could build local.
I designed a system for a one hundred square meter garden, gravity feeding from a 200 liter barrel at one meter height. Getting the pressure balanced and the drip rate consistent is no small challenge; there is a lot of physics involved.
It took four weeks of trial, the last week of which Emmanuel came to visit, offering to help. I’m glad he did, because frankly, I was getting tired of the process. However, I finally discovered a ingenious solution (If I do say so myself) to balance the pressure and guarantee a more uniform drip rate. However, it was going to be labor intensive to prepare each drip in each pipe, using this idea. So I made a deal with Emmanuel; if he would help me finish the work, I would set up the garden drip irrigation system for his family and they could test it for me. In the end it would become his. This meant I would have to come by Emmanuel’s house from time to time to follow the progress of this new design. This is how I got to know Philippe.
Last year Philippe told his dad that one day he wanted to go visit Andy and Lynn at their house, as he wanted to see where we lived. Emmanuel shared this conversation with me and I said by all means, do bring little Philippe over.
He arrived one day, and in the process of the visit Lynn gave Philippe some glow- in- the- dark marbles, and we opened a can of fizzy raspberry drink for him. He would never have had the like before, at 500 CFA ($1) a can. That’s almost a day’s wage for many here.
Philippe sipped away as we all chatted, but the can of juice was just too big for the little guy. He was floating trying to finish it all. As we chatted his eyes started drooping with heavy sleepyness. It was so hilarious to watch Philippe trying to stay awake with the can of juice in his hand, almost spilling several times because he refused to let go of the can. Determined to finish, and determined not to sleep. But he lost the battle. We giggled watching his droopy eyes close, then open, then close again for the last time. His dad woke him when it was time to leave. We thanked Philippe for his visit.
I got to see Philippe many more times in his own court yard. They live in the corner of a relative’s vacant lot, not in a house, but a shed.
Philippe had such a great visit that several months later, upon hearing we were soon heading back to Canada, Philippe told his dad that he wanted to come to our house to wish us goodbye. I told his dad that Lynn had a bag of candy waiting for his arrival, and to be certain to bring him by. Philippe did come with his dad and scored some loot in the process. We gave him a bag of candy and fanta orange to drink, and told him to share the bag of candy with his brothers and sisters. That was six months ago.
We just arrived back in Sikasso a few days ago. Had a good visit with Emmanuel, he came over to welcome us back. Today being Sunday, we went to a local church in the town, which happens to be where Emmanuel’s family attends. After the service, but before we all walked out of the building, little Philippe came over, grabbed my hand, and we walked out of church together. He stuck to me like glue as I chatted with various adults. Until he started to cry.
I asked his dad what the problem was. Philippe told him in Bambara that his feet hurt. You can see the bandages on the sides of his ankles and heels, on both feet, and blood through the bandages. Emmanuel told me about the problem a few days ago. He took Philippe to several doctors, treated him with three different medicines, and nothing seems to help. Emmanuel said that the sores would get a little better, but then come back again. He even tried some traditional medicine, and nothing works. I suspect the real problem is money for a longer term treatment, until it’s cleared up.
A few months ago Philippe came to his dad and expressed his desire to go to school like the other kids, so Emmanuel enrolled his son in school. But Philippe missed four days last week because of his sore, bleeding feet. Seeing the poor little guy today broke my heart.
My wife and I talked it over. It took all of three seconds to decide we are going to send Philippe to get the wounds on his feet looked after. His family is doing the best they can with limited money. They simply need a little help.
Philippe Coulibaly deserves better, any child does. We can’t help everyone. But we can do something about Philippe. I want him to be able to walk to school, and selfishly, to my house for a visit too.