"Malawi chose us" - Denton parishioners establish African charity
When Seth Morgan and Michael Tenny decided to start a charity that would make a difference in the world, they carefully weighed their options. For more than a year, the North Texas businessmen studied where money and manpower could do the most good.
Guatemala, Mexico, and impoverished areas in the U.S. were considered worthy candidates. But their thoughts soon turned to Malawi, an underdeveloped country in southeast Africa with high rates of malnutrition, infant mortality, and disease. It’s also home to more than 1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
“We didn’t choose Malawi. Malawi chose us and God made that happen,” explained Morgan, a lifelong member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Denton.
The landlocked nation survived severe famine in 2002 and tops the international list for illiteracy, lack of clean water, low life expectancy, and economic instability.
“We wanted to help people who are extremely poor and give them opportunity,” he added. “We’re blessed to live in America. Most people don’t appreciate what real poverty is.”
Orant Charities made its first trip to Malawi, “The Warm Heart of Africa,” in 2007 and became a permanent presence in the country a few years later. One of the first challenges was tackling inadequate healthcare.
A medical clinic was purchased in 2014 and the charity invested thousands in renovations and program development. Today the rural health center boasts a fully stocked pharmacy and delivers as many as 30 babies a month in its new maternity ward. A mobile unit, staffed with doctors and nurses, travels to remote villages to treat the sick.
“We see more than 50,000 people a year in our clinic, and about 20,000 will have malaria,” said Tenny, explaining outbreaks of the disease are rampant in Africa. The mosquito-borne illness is particularly devastating to children. Left untreated, many die.
“If you have it, there are five days when you are so violently ill, you can’t eat or drink,” the St. Mark parishioner continued. “Children [usually] can’t live through that, but we haven’t lost a child in five years.”
Malaria is easily cured if caught early. After a blood test at the medical clinic confirms the diagnosis, 50 cents worth of medicine and a few hours of rest is all that’s needed to get a youngster back playing soccer again.
“We’re able to save lives but the clinic has to be there to do it,” Tenny emphasized.
Providing clean water is another ongoing project. Since 2007, the charity’s water program has repaired 200 wells and drilled 17 new bore holes to serve 30,000 people. Each water well costs $5,000.
“We’re constantly looking for places where a single water well will make a difference,” said Orant’s co-founder, who makes the 30-hour trip to Malawi several times a year.
In Africa, women haul all the water and firewood.
“If they have to walk two miles each way with children to get water, that’s a burden,” he pointed out. “So Orant tries to drill wells as close to the center of the community as possible.”
Clean, safe, accessible water is more than a convenience.
“It helps prevent sickness,” Tenny added. “Women and children don’t get parasites.”
Trying to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life for Malawians, Orant Charities also supports the education of young people — particularly girls — and operates an agriculture extension program for farmers. Expenses are kept to a minimum, and business professionals operate the nonprofit efficiently. All donations are welcomed but the charity relies heavily on a small group of benefactors who have supported it from the beginning.
“Everyone doing the work is a volunteer, and every dollar put in goes directly to the charity,” Tenny promised. “The only money we actually spend is running medical clinics, drilling water wells, helping farmers, or direct tuition aid for young women in school.”
Orant Charities keeps a low profile and most Catholic parishes and organizations have never heard of it.
“We don’t do pulpit announcements and don’t put as much effort forward in raising more money as we should,” the organizer admitted. “That’s because everyone running this organization has a full-time job. We’re busy doing that and serving the people in Africa.”
And there’s another aspect of the charity that makes it different from others. Since its inception, Orant Charities has encouraged supporters to visit Malawi and become hands-on volunteers. Except for medical professionals volunteering their services, travelers pay their own airfare and carry extra luggage with supplies needed in Malawi. Orant covers housing and food.
“When you see how people in other parts of the world live, it’s very eye-opening,” admitted Seth Morgan who never forgot the mud hut villages he saw during a mission trip to Guatemala in 2001. “Working side by side with the poor allows you to know them as people and what their life is like.”
“We’re a society that focuses on ourselves,” the brewery owner observed. “When you focus on other people, it’s incredibly fulfilling. It really helps us find our purpose.”
Many ignore the voice calling them to mission work.
“God wants you to make a change in your life. I believe that strongly,” he said. “If we listen to that voice, God will give us the experience we are supposed to have.”