What you need to know:
- The football hero established a foundation and set up a medical facility.
- The initial plan was to build a hospital specifically for children, where their mothers could also be looked after in better conditions than the ones he had witnessed at Treichville.
Didier Yves Drogba's first international football appearance for his country, Cote d'Ivoire, was on September 8, 2002, in a 0-0 draw with South Africa, in the coastal city of Abidjan. Ten days later, Cote d'Ivoire descended into a civil war.
Drogba and his Malian wife, Lalla Diakite, started visiting orphanages and hospitals to donate food, beds, bedding and clothes. “When you see those kids and families with nothing, you have to do something," Drogba writes in Commitment: My Autobiography.
“Our conscience simply didn't allow us to do otherwise.”
However, two particular events, both similar in circumstance, contributed to the ascension of Drogba's charity. In 2003, Stephanie, a teenage relative of Drogba's best friend, would appear with a banner written 'Fan Club Didier Drogba' in Stade Velodrome as Drogba played for Marseille in southern France.
Stephanie's support eventually grew to a Didier Drogba fan club that would support him in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, during his international matches.
In early 2005, Drogba, who had signed for Chelsea Football Club seven months earlier in West London, received news from his best friend that Stephanie had been diagnosed with leukaemia.
He immediately made an effort through his home contacts to help Stephanie get a visa to travel to France for specialised care. Unfortunately, due to massive diplomatic hindrances contributed by the civil war, Stephanie's visa was delayed.
By the time the visa was approved, Stephanie was too weak to travel and died, aged 16. This was the first time Drogba witnessed the death of an acquaintance. It motivated him to create a foundation that would raise funds to support the needy, thanks to his prominent status.
In 2007, he decided to donate all his earnings from lucrative endorsement contracts with international brands—Samsung, Pepsi, Nike and Turkish Airlines—to the Didier Drogba Foundation.
The second event that prompted Drogba to increase his charitable and humanitarian efforts occurred on March 29, 2009. The Cote d'Ivoire national team was set to play a World Cup qualifying match against Malawi in Abidjan.
But before the game kicked off, a section of the stadium collapsed, killing 19 people and injuring more than 100 others, including women and children.
After the game, the entire national team visited Treichville Hospital that housed the injured. A female French rapper called Diam's, who had befriended Drogba, had been financially assisting a child named Nobel.
Diam's had previously contacted Drogba to donate money and food to orphanages and people in need in Cote d'Ivoire, and during her visits, she had met Nobel.
Like Stephanie, Nobel also had leukaemia and Diam's fell in love with him and decided to pay for his medical treatment for a year.
Drogba was profoundly touched by her generosity and took over Nobel's medical expenses from her. When Drogba visited the injured on March 29, 2009, he encountered an excruciatingly depressing and upsetting situation.
Nine children, including Nobel, were crammed in a small room. The mothers of the nine children slept on mats on the floor, wedged between the beds.
When they saw Drogba, they all pleaded with him to assist their children, holding out their arms in a gesture of despair. In the midst of the traumatic heartbreak, Drogba instantly decided to build a medical facility for the less-fortunate.
The sight of mothers with their cancer-stricken children pleading with him for assistance haunted and inspired him to move expeditiously and construct an ultramodern hospital to offer specialised care to people with critical conditions.
He contacted a friend in London – a cardiac surgeon who had built mobile clinics and shipped them to Haiti and Niger. He explained that this approach was the best way to reach deprived patients.
The initial plan was to build a hospital specifically for children, where their mothers could also be looked after in better conditions than the ones he had witnessed at Treichville.
But it was clear that on top of trying to treat children for major ailments such as cancer, basic medication for other illnesses was essential.
In the autobiography, Drogba expresses his desire to have a mobile clinic. He adopted the mobile clinic idea to operate concurrently with the hospital and reach patients in remote areas.
The mayor of Abidjan acquired a piece of land in Attecoube District. Roman Abramovich, who owned Chelsea Football Club then, made a prodigious personal donation to the Didier Drogba Foundation, to launch construction.
By the time it was completed in 2010, the hospital had an ultrasound room, a maternal and child protection unit, an X-ray block, a modern laboratory, a pharmacy, and hospitalisation and isolation wards with a capacity to serve 50,000 patients annually.
And to expand the services, Drogba has decided to build five more hospitals in Bouake, San Pedro, Man, Karhogo and the administrative capital of Yamoussoukro.
Jeff Anthony is a novelist, a Big Brother Africa 2 Kenyan representative and founder of Jeff's Fitness Centre (@jeffbigbrother).