Local islander Kate Coffey is currently in Washington DC on an all-expenses paid trip, thanks to Coffey’s expert volunteer work in Sri Lanka with organizations Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) and Land O’Lakes International Development.
Kate received an Award for International Volunteerism on Tuesday, December 5, on Capitol Hill along with five other recipients.
In 2013, Coffey says she packed in her “cushy” job in investment management to live and volunteer in Nepal, Bangladesh and “places in between.”
She says she is now comfortably settled into a year-on, year-off volunteer routine which she says she plans to continue as long as possible.
“I see this as a lifestyle,” says Coffey.
In 2016/17, Coffey spent nine months volunteering with the VEGA BIZ+ program that aims to stimulate Sri Lanka’s economy by providing small and medium sized enterprises with technical capabilities to grow and become more successful.
In describing the work, Coffey tells the story of assisting a tailor with a small men’s clothing factory in Jaffna, Northern Sri Lanka.
“The business owner had endured the trauma of the civil war, and his wife, who had been his business manager, had recently died of cancer”. “When I started working with him the factory had 12 staff and the business was going bankrupt. Over six months, I managed to generate funds through inventory sales, thus allowing him to purchase new fabric for a new line of clothing, rejuvenating his business. When I left, they had 32 full-time staff and I believe they have more than that now. They are doing exceedingly well. Not only has the business gained financial stability, but the prosperity has been shared with the Tamil community including women who are traditionally marginalized.”
Coffey said Michael Parr, Chief of Party of the project had mentioned to her a few months ago that he was nominating her for an award. But he cautioned her not to get too excited as nominations come forward from hundreds of organizations. Coffey is the first non-American to win this award.
In 2018, she says it is her plan to return to Sri Lanka and continue her work there. In the meantime, Coffey will continue to be employed in the investment industry. During her free time, volunteers with initiatives on Bowen Island including as the Chair of the Bowen Island Arts Council.