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Teaching the teachers to empower street kids

John Coffey, his wife Jamielyn and three-year-old daughter Ali were in Elmira during the month of October to visit some family before returning to their home in the Philippines. [Aneta Rebiszewski / The Observer]

Nearly 10 years ago, Elmira resident John Coffey packed his bags and moved to Manila, Philippines where he decided to dedicate his time to empowering the youth in the community through the non-profit organization International Teams Tender.

What first started as a few short-term missions to the country quickly turned into a passion for teaching and leading as an example for children that are living on the streets of Manila.

“We’re not just sending them to school but we are transforming at risk children into agents of change in their community,” he said last week during a visit back home in Elmira.

In the beginning Coffey was a volunteer and would often help with handing out food to the children living on the streets, many of them runaways or addicted to solvents. But that was just the start of what he’d ultimately set out to achieve in Manila, where he wanted to provide programs and community-based initiatives to allow the kids to become educated and responsible leaders.

Achieving that goal through IT Tender meant coming up with long-term solutions to meet the needs of the street kids, he noted.

“Instead of just reaching out to youth living on the street, it became more proactive and preventative.”

By 2013, Coffey had taken over leadership of IT Tender and embarked on a personal journey in keeping with his efforts to help others.

IT Tender came up with a program called ‘Sponsor-A-Child-Now’ that helps elementary and high school students receive an education through a $25 monthly fee that covers any expenses.

“Over time you see these kids who are so grateful to be able to go to school – they look up to the Filipino staff, they want to be like them,” Coffey explained. 

The program already has more than 150 sponsors to day, contributing to its success, but the goal is to bring that number up to 1,000.

Much has changed in the decade since he left for Manila, notably his marriage and a young daughter. His wife Jamielyn Coffey, who was born in the Philippines, is also involved in the initiative as a teacher at the early childhood education centre run by IT Tender. Together they work hand in hand to provide a strong foundation for these children who are in need of empowerment and leadership.

Many educators in the Philippines lack the funds to finish their education, a situation that led to an IT Tender program called ‘Send a Teacher to School.’ It provides a scholarship for local teachers and social workers who are pursuing a college education.

The IT Tenders team is made up of an all Filipino staff that grew up in poverty, Coffey explained, noting they serve as role models for the benefits of creating a strong foundation of educators that the children can look up to.

“We didn’t want to just invest in the kids, but we wanted to invest in our staff. Have them improve, have them be examples to the kids,” he said.

IT Tender was established in 2000 by a Filipino couple, John and Gela Basiwa, who saw a need in their community to help abandoned or runaway youth. In the early days of IT Tender, most of what the couple did was bring bread to the children on the streets who were often malnourished.  Since its inception the initiative has grown through its various programs that mainly focus on providing education, creating a sense of community and providing a better future for the youth living in Manila.

While time has passed by for the former Elmira resident, he now considers the Philippines to be his home, the place where he will continue to work with the children in the community to help set an example and provide any guidance they need.  When Coffey isn’t helping in Manila, he is travelling around to collect sponsorships and inform people on what IT Tender does.

“It’s incredible to see that they’re turning into responsible leaders.”

More information on IT Tender and the programs that they are running in the Philippines can be found online. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can visit the website or contact John himself at john.coffey@iteams.ca.

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