The Malawi Africa Story
Doug Spesia was the senior partner of the Spesia & Taylor law firm for 20 years. He had a passion for world travel and a deep personal commitment to helping others. In 2003, Doug Spesia and his wife Lori travelled to Malawi, Africa to volunteer at a mission located in a small village called Namitembo. While there, the Spesias worked with two missionary priests, one of whom had been in Malawi for 50 years, as well as with many native priests. They became immersed in the culture, learning a great deal about the country and the work the priests were doing to empower the people with practical skills. Mostly, the Spesias were impressed with the hardworking, kind and welcoming people of Malawi. After three weeks, they knew first hand why Malawi was called “the warm heart of Africa.”
At the Namitembo Mission there was a church, primary and secondary schools, a trade school and a youth center active with teens from the villages. A maize mill for grinding corn helped support the mission as well as an agriculture area for teaching sustainable farming techniques to the people in the area.
The Spesias were next touched by the Country of Malawi in 2004 when they met Philip Mbeta. Mbeta was a native of Malawi, a doctoral student and Catholic priest. Fr. Philip was assigned to a parish near the Spesias home in Plainfield, while he was enrolled at Illinois Benedictine College in Lisle. Fr. Philip was surprised, to say the least, when Doug introduced himself and greeted Fr. Philip in Chichewa, the native language in Malawi. The initial greeting sparked a friendship between the Spesias and Fr. Philip that endures to this day because of Doug’s commitment, even after his passing, to helping the people of Malawi.
Doug and Lori returned to Namitembo for a second visit in 2005. As on the first visit, they worked at the youth center painting murals with a group of teens. Doug helped teach in the high school and both of the Spesias spent time volunteering at a nearby medical clinic. They lived at the mission, traveling with the priests, learning more about the country and culture, deepening their friendship with everyone they met and worked with.
After Doug Spesia’s death in 2010, and with the generous donations from his family, friends, and lawyers at Spesia & Taylor, a memorial fund was started to help the people of Malawi. With the insight and assistance of Fr. Philip Mbeta, who had returned home to continue his ministry in Malawi, plans were made to construct the St. Joseph’s Centre in Thyolo, Malawi.
Malawi is a country of roughly 10 million people, many of whom do not have access to education, clean water, or even food whenever a drought causes poor harvests. While a relatively stable democratic regime has governed Malawi since 1995, it is ranked 171 out of 187 countries in the world on the United Nations’ Human Development Index, and U.N. statistics indicate that the average adult there has only received about four years of schooling.
In Malawi, water-related illnesses, including cholera and typhoid, are common due to the lack of access to clean water. The village of Likwakwanda, in the Thyolo District of Malawi, is no exception, and was in need of a clean water source. Recognizing this need, the Joliet Rotary Club has stepped in to help and since 2011 has been constructing wells for clean water in the Thyolo region of Malawi where the St. Joseph’s Centre is located.