Hard work, perseverance, and selflessness can take you beyond your dreams.

Didier Drogba

Making an impact on the pitch and the planet

By Jason Santerre

If you happened to be flying out of Montreal last July 29, we won’t blame you if, for a split second, you thought the circus had just landed at Trudeau Airport. The arrival lounge was a vibrating mass of people chanting, drumming, and singing. This was a welcome fit for the Ivory Coast’s football legend, Didier Drogba.

Although past his athletic peak, the 37-year-old was quick to prove any doubters wrong. Not only did he score a hat trick in his first full match with the Impact, he was instrumental in the team’s advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals — a first for the club. Who knows what magic he has in store for 2016?

What we do know is that the soccer star is both humble and humane. The latter trait helped him establish The Didier Drogba Foundation, an entity with a mandate to improve the lives of children in his homeland and his home continent. He sat down with Montreal enSanté in an exclusive interview to discuss his busy year ahead.

Montréal enSanté: Why did you want to start The Didier Drogba Foundation?
Didier Drogba: I wanted a tool to help take care of some of the many requests for assistance I was receiving. The real purpose was not very clear in 2007, other than to be able to assist. Then in March 2009, Cote d’Ivoire faced a drama, which happened at the national football stadium in Abidjan, the capital city. During the match almost 40 people died and over 100 were injured due to overcrowding. While visiting with the injured people the next day, I was saddened by the condition of the patients.

And that’s where I met Nobel Assamoi Yapo, an eight-year-old old boy suffering from leukemia. Upset by the situation of that boy, I decided to take charge and send him for intensive care in Geneva, Switzerland. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts, he lost his fight against the disease a few months later. That’s when I decided to make health one of the pillars of my Foundation. The second pillar is education.

MES: What’s on the horizon?
DD: First of all, we plan to open our first medical center in Abidjan. It should be made available to patients by June. We are currently equipping it. Then we launch the first “Heart Mobile,” which is a unique medical vehicle equipped for heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer in Africa for adults. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much media attention. People tend to focus more on communicable diseases. We decided, with our partner The Heart Fund, to do something about it.

MES: And what about education?
DD: First, we are building one school and hopefully two more starting in September of 2016. We are also working with UNESCO on the new system for literacy through mobile phones. It’s a pilot project but if it works, it is going to be revolutionary.

MES: What are your hopes for the Foundation’s future?
DD: I really want people to understand that this is not a game or a fame thing for me. It is serious and I am really committed to making an impact. I think that I see it as my duty. I have been blessed. I need to give back as much as I can. My hope is to build a foundation that will cover Africa and will survive the end of my football career, and also survive me. I want to grow the impact of the foundation in Africa and, one day, around the world. Why not?

MES: What are some of your proudest moments via The Foundation?
DD: I like being with the kids, getting a smile from them. That is the measure for me. And to see how everything counts, from the school bags offered to malaria kits. Everything.

MES: What do you miss most when you’re away?
DD: The warmth of my country (laughs). Seriously, I miss my family and my friends. Even the food. However, I hope I will have the opportunity to help Canadians discover more about my home.

MES: How much of an adjustment was it for you playing in Montreal?
DD: It was a positive experience. I remember when I arrived I was surprised by the kindness of the people. I thought, ‘is this really the way people are here?’ And then I realized that, yes, they are. I was lucky to adapt and help the team have a good season.

MES: That kind of reception must have felt good.
DD: It moved me deeply. So much warmth surprised me, and I really felt that people trusted me, believed in me. At the same time, it was a challenge. I could not disappoint them. But it helped me integrate myself in the team, and I really hope that I managed to meet expectations of the fans.

MES: Tell us what it was like participating in two World Cups?
DD: There are no words. I was just proud. In 2006, it was the first qualification for my country, and it was because of a small miracle. What great memories, even if I feel that we could have done better each time we participated.

MES: If you could travel through time and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
DD: Believe in you. And never give up. Fight for your dream. Hard work, perseverance, and selflessness can take you beyond your dreams.

MES: Is there anything you would like to add?
DD: I dream of a happy and healthy Africa, a more educated Africa, out to conquer the world, an Africa that we will be proud to leave to our children. I invite everyone to join in that fight to improve the lives of the poorest. For me, it’s the most important game of my career.

For more information, please visit www.fondationdidierdrogba.org

Spring 2016, Vol 8 N°2

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