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Date published: October 30, 2018

Giving Oneself to Children

By Kelly Nguyen, International Journalism For Digital Media student.

Dave Cooke, Founder of UK-based charity Teams4U, talks about the challenges and the joy of helping children in need.

When Dave Cooke entered the lecture hall at the University of Salford in a mid-October evening to share his experience of helping children across the globe, his presence was immediately felt and the room seemed warmed up despite the temperature being very low just on the other side of the door.

Cooke’s opening advise was, “ Don’t take No, for an answer! - If someone tells you something can’t be done, find a way around it! ”.

Cooke went straight to the point and made it known, not about himself, but the plight of children in other parts of the world.  Dave set up the current charity, Teams4U, twelve years ago now. Dave’s intention in doing this, was to take Teams of ordinary people into situations where they can help lift people, especially children, out of the desperation of their circumstances. This maybe for a short time with the gift of a Shoebox, or more long term as T4U works consistently in poor rural regions to help empower people through educational support, training, healthcare and supplying practical resources, to help and encourage them to maximize their opportunities.

Dave Cooke left school when he was 14 years old, with no formal qualifications. “Cooke, you will never achieve anything with your life,” his head teacher told him.  Surely both of them were unaware at the time that Cooke’s work would be globally known and appreciated. He has received many awards from Heads of State and other organisations, including an Honourary Doctorate from The University of Salford in 2017.

One day, towards the end of 1990, television images of miserable Romanian orphans touched Dave’s heart. On his talk at Salford on 18 October 2018, Cooke recounted: “Where does my heart wanna be? Do I want to carry on running my business and making thousands of pounds ?”

“No,” he said. “I want it to do what my heart wants. That is giving myself to children 100 percent.”

Cooke decided to quit his successful business because he had a new plan - He wanted to impact Eastern Europe.  A family member had come up with the shoebox gift idea, so by December, the Cooke family and its army of volunteers had trucks full of aid, including some shoeboxes, heading to the orphanages in Romania. The idea snowballed. Cooke founded Operation Christmas Child and in 1994 the charity merged with the American charity Samaritans Purse. The Shoebox concept continued to grow. Twenty seven years later, millions of children in the world have received boxes full of toys, clothing, stuffed animals, stationaries, and candies. Cooke’s global campaign has brought happiness to millions of marginalised children, in countries such as Albania, Belarus, Hungary, Rwanda, Russia, Kenya, Serbia, Bosnia, etc.

Whilst with OCC Cooke was also an International Projects Manager of the “Second Chance” Programme which empowered street kids. Dave’s heart in this was to see “Men being, what man should be, those that cares for others. Many of the people he worked with had never had a first chance is life, never mind a second chance”. Lives have been impacted and this impact is like ripples in a pool. A small impact, can have a big effect.

In 2006, Cooke left OCC with Samaritans’ Purse and Founded his new charity, Teams4U.

T4U focus was to take groups of volunteers to desperately poor areas of the world, to work on projects, aimed at lifting people, especially children, out of poverty. T4U does this through healthcare, education, and empowerment programs. Bring lots of much needed joy along the way too.

“Giving myself to children 100 percent.”

In the morning before his speech at Salford University, I spoke to Cooke over the phone about his leadership and managerial experience. I asked about difficulties he faced at the time when he quit his very successful business to run a charity, he quipped: “I would say they are challenges, not difficulties.”

There are a lot of non-profit making organisations out there. How have you been able to stand out in the crowd and get attention for the brand?

T4U works with in country partners, helping them to make what they do more effective. Local people know their local needs better than we do.  We get alongside them and add to their impact. For example we work with a HIV testing charity in Uganda. When we are in country with them they have told us that the people they reach goes up ten times. This local partnering adds to their effectiveness and T4U’s effectiveness – Everybody Wins! We avoided any corruption by consistently working direct with very reliable and trusted in country partners, spending time with them, building local relationships and impacting communities.

What would you advice for newly created charity groups?

Find a way around an obstacle.  There is always a way!

You need to be patient and you need to keep looking for the right people to work alongside.

How do you promote your organization in a way that makes people trust your organisation and your particular events?

T4U is all about “Real People Making a Ream Difference” It’s our volunteers who make T4U what it is. People have to want to do it. They have to want to give their hearts. To have a positive impact on a Childs life.

In addition, each year T4U sends out numerous Teams of Volunteers to work in Uganda. On average around 25,000 children are impacted annually by the T4U programme in Uganda.   We have also resumed taking Teams to Sierra Leone again. Helping local people find ways out of poverty, in a devastated country.  T4U has vocational colleges in both these countries, offering basic life skills and the chance to learn a trade, lifting local people and their families out of the poverty trap.

Over the last few years volunteers have asked T4U to help them send Shoeboxes to Eastern Europe again.  This started again slowly, with the numbers increasing greatly in the last couple of years. In 2017, T4U sent 38,000 shoeboxes out to Eastern European children. Now, volunteers, staff and coordinators are working on preparing new shoeboxes which will be delivered to Romania, Belarus, Bosnia, and Ukraine this Christmas too.

In addition to the Shoeboxes T4U offers sustained support in Eastern Europe by funding various preschool and homework help schemes in Romania via the T4U Educational Sponsorship Programme.

See what can happen if you are motivated, determined and resourceful enough to find your way around an obstacle!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

www.teams4u.com takes Teams of volunteers on 7 – 10 days trips to work with local partners around the Glode. You too could join them and be ”A Real Person Making a Real Differnce” contact them via info@teams4u.com

Follow Teams4U on Facebook and Twitter @Teams4u

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