This is Caspar. Caspar used to work as a gardener and guard for some expats I knew in Ivory Coast, West Africa.
In 2000, after living in Ivory Coast for five yeas, I moved back to Canada, and eventually our expat friends moved on as well. We always do………. and it is always very difficult for those we leave behind, unemployed.
Today the UN tells me that it is: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Let me tell you a few stories about poverty as I have experienced it.
In January 2009 I returned to Ivory Coast to do some teaching and leadership development, one of four such follow-up trips between 2000-2009.
I was able to reconnect with Caspar because of another expat friend who told me that Caspar is jobless, and homeless, squatting in a half built house in Abengourou. The place had no windows or doors, is wide open to the elements, where only the cement walls and roof stand. Caspar and his children were living in the open garage part you see in this picture. Most of what they owned was packed up in two rice sacks in the corner of the open garage cubicle. A few bowls and cooking pots stacked beside the sacs.
I was first testing gravity feed garden drip irrigation in West Africa at this time, so when my friend took me to see Caspar’s desperate situation, I knew I had to set up two gardens for Caspar. We made plans.
I had asked Caspar and his wife to have some old cloth tissue ready to cover the irrigation buckets, to act as a primary water filter for the drip irrigation buckets. However, in preparation for setup day, I picked up a second hand t-shirt at the mass cloths market for 50 cents to do the job.
We set up the two gardens side by side to great the enthusiastic excitement from Caspar’s wife. However, when I hauled the T-shirt out of my supply bag, offering it to be cut in two to filter both irrigation buckets, Caspar and his wife kind of went buzzy on me. I knew by the reaction something was up.
Caspar said, “No!” quite emphatically. Rapidly pointed to his wife who sprang up immediately, dramatically, and she began running almost hysterically to the open garage and produced some old rag that really was not going to do the job well, it was in tatters, but we made do with it anyway. The t-shirt size was for a much smaller child, but I said they could keep it if it will fit one of the kids. Caspar pointed to the boy and said it will fit him. I had my doubts, as it was literally half the length of the boys torso. I said, “Well, lets not waste a good t-shirt then. They quickly tucked the t-shirt away with a smile. They needed that stupid old t-shirt so badly it was heart breaking.
The good news is that the children were attending school at the time. How Caspar and his wife managed to pay the school fees I have no idea.
I wish I could have followed up with Caspar, I know we could have made a real difference for him and his family. I am certain Caspar only experienced a fraction of the benefit, and it was probably very short lived. But I no longer lived in Ivory Coast, and could do little about it.
“On this day we recommit to think, decide and act together against extreme poverty — and plan for a world where no-one is left behind. Our aim must be prosperity for all, not just a few.” (Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Message for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty)
How about my very first encounter with extreme poverty in 1995. Seeing an elderly woman picking discarded potato peals out of a ditch. It changes how you view life forever.
You can read the story here. When It Hurts Most…. Living With Mali In Your Heart