The child said her name was Ade. Police called her Adeline.
She was taken to a state nursery where she stayed until she was four. Then she moved on, to the SOS Children’s Village for orphaned and abandoned children – where, with kindness and care, she grew into a determined and talented young athlete.
So talented in fact that 18-year-old Adeline Gouenon is now in the UK, studying sports development (sports science and physical education) at Loughborough College. And, as an Ivorian athletics champion, she has just been selected by her country for trials to run in the London Olympics.
Adeline is the Ivory Coast’s cadet record holder for the 100-metres, 200-metres and 400-metres. She is also the cadet pan-African champion in the 400-metres.
The trials in Abidjan in April could result in her qualifying for the Ivorian Olympic team as a junior (for 18-21-year-olds) – but she is so fast on the track that she could even be selected for the Ivorian Olympics senior team. Whatever the outcome, Adeline’s sights are set firmly on qualifying for the Olympics at some point, at least for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Adeline’s face lights up when she talks about running. “I want to do well for my SOS family, my SOS mother and my country,” she says. “They helped me to get where I am now and I want them to be proud of me.”
It was only last November that Adeline left Africa for the first time ever, and arrived in the UK – in business class, on a flight donated by British Airways, who wanted to make her arrival extra special. She says she felt “like the Queen of England”.
“We bought some warm clothes, linens, food and kitchen gear – so she became completely familiar with the UK supermarket,” says Kathie, who secured Adeline’s place at Loughborough with the generous help of SOS Children corporate supporters.
BA provided her travel; the HSBC scholarship fund is covering her course fees, accommodation and living expenses, for three years; the Federation of Cocoa Commerce is funding £1,000 of the equipment she will need; and World-Check kindly provided a laptop computer. Loughborough College awarded her a bursary to cover half of her fees.
“She seems delighted and a bit anxious,” Kathie reported after leaving her to get accustomed to UK campus life. “She was thrilled to have a room of her own, for the first time ever, and the duty warden at the residence is a sprinter, so I left her in good company!”
At Loughborough, Adeline is taking an English Plus course (French is her native language; she also speaks Spanish, Italian, German and two local African languages) then, from September this year, she will begin a two-year B-Tech degree course.
She is already training with the university’s athletics team (she gets up at 5am to run every morning), and she makes good use of the university’s indoor and outdoor running tracks. Her personal coach, Tom Crick, directs her training programme and is supporting her as she talks with Ivory Coast’s sports authorities about her participation in the Olympics.
In our video interview (below), Adeline reflects on how her SOS mother gave her the strength to carry on with athletics when she thought about giving up.
We first met Adeline at the SOS Abobo-Gare Village, in the suburbs of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2010 during filming for ‘Our Africa’ – our educational website (www.our-africa.org) marking our charity’s 40 years of providing mothers and families to orphaned and abandoned children across Africa.
How you can help
At present there are two SOS Children's Villages in Côte d'Ivoire where hundreds of children like Adeline are growing up. You can help give more children a better future by sponsoring a child in our care, or by donating to our work in the country.