Falcons' Tevin Coleman helps needy children in West Africa

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman helps open a water well for children from the village of Agravi in Ghana. Coleman took part in a two-week mission trip to the West Africa region. Courtesy of Sellars Vines

As Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman walked the streets of war-torn Liberia this offseason, he spotted a courageous, 6-year-old girl toting her baby sister on her back.

"She was carrying her sister because their parents had died, and they were just trying to survive," Coleman said. "So I gave them $40 ... . They were so happy and shocked that people were giving to them. It made me feel so good. It was humbling."

The entire, two-week mission trip to West Africa, with stops in Liberia and Ghana, gave Coleman a new appreciation for life. He made the trek with his father, brother, and the pastor from his suburban Chicago church. It was part of project called The Joseph Assignment Global Initiative, established in 2005 to enhance poverty-stricken areas of the world.

"It was an awesome experience for Tevin and the children in Ghana and Liberia to meet a professional American football player," said Rev. Dr. Alexis Felder, who founded the program. "Tevin is a faithful donor to the Joseph Assignment Global Initiative and immediately started to give to the poor once he became an NFL player. He knows he is blessed to be a blessing."

Liberia is where Coleman's parents, Wister and Adlevia, were born and raised until they migrated to the United States. It's also the place where his great, great grandfather, William D. Coleman, served as president from 1896-1900. Coleman visited his relative's grave site while on the mission trip.

"That was the first time I went," Coleman said. "I was planning on going but I couldn't go during college because I had so much going on with football and the NFL combine. I just wanted to go out there and help them with feeding kids and getting them clothes."

Liberia, with a population of $4.1 million, had a poverty rate of 81.86 percent as of 2014, according to the United Nations Development Program. Ghana's poverty rate was 28.6 percent, but Coleman and crew assisted poor remote villages in the central region.

The main goal for Coleman and his contingent was to give the children a better chance at survival.

"We opened up water wells so the kids could get clean water instead of drinking out of mud puddles," Coleman said. "We wanted to do it so they don't get sick. That was a real significant thing."

Seven clean water wells were commissioned in Ghana. The team also hosted a medical clinic, where Coleman took temperatures and blood pressures of the children under the supervision of medical professionals.

In Liberia, Coleman visited a school of 600 students and orphans previously destroyed during two civil wars, which took place between 1989-2003 and claimed an estimated 250,000 lives. He helped evaluate two sites for new schools, estimated to cost $250,000 as part of an ongoing fundraising effort. And Coleman met with doctors from the MRI center funded by the project.

Seeing villages affected by warfare and still recovering from the deadly Ebola virus outbreak all gave Coleman a better understanding of his parents' homeland.

"It was a struggle, but my father came to the U.S. for college and came down to try and get his education and make a better life for himself," Coleman said. "He succeeded in that, and I'm glad for him.

"Everything I have and that my parents gave me, I'm so blessed. That's why I'm doing this. Why not give to people who don't have it? That's what I like to do.