Despite being a cradle Catholic who takes his faith and how he lives it out seriously, Don Madda ’91 M.B.A. never imagined himself as the missionary type. An unlikely opportunity more than a decade ago changed his self-perception, though, and his family members’ lives, forever.
A friend from the men’s group at church had been seeking volunteers to join him on a trip to Ghana. At first, Madda paid no heed, but one Friday morning the invitation struck a chord and he began considering going to Africa.
During Sunday Mass two days later, the text of the communion hymn seemed like a divine word: you will cross the barren desert ... you will wander far in safety though you do not know the way ... you will speak your words in foreign lands ...
"My daughters and my wife looked at me and we all just kind of knew," Madda says. "It couldn’t have been any clearer that I was supposed to go."
After that initial trip, which laid the groundwork for establishing a school in a remote region of Ghana, Madda returned home and helped create a charitable foundation to raise the necessary funds.
"While we were in Ghana we saw this hair salon, by which I mean a mud hut with a dirt floor and handwritten sign out front, called the Clap For Jesus Boutique, and we thought that was great so we named the 501(c)(3) after it," he says.
Since students in the area walked great distances to attend school, the foundation raised money to build housing facilities in addition to the school building itself, so students could stay nearby during the week and only have to go home on weekends.
Madda also reached out to some acquaintances to organize medical missions trips to Ghana, which have continued almost annually for a decade. His wife and their daughters joined him on successive trips, and after adding a son to their family, the Maddas have done mission work together in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Guatemala.
"It’s way more than just giving a week here or two weeks there," Madda says. "This is a way of life for our family. These trips are expensive and you pay your own way, so you make financial decisions every day with the knowledge that you’re hoping to make life better for other people. We don’t have the latest iPhone or the expensive tennis shoes. The joy and happiness and faith of the people in Ghana helped me realize that so much of the stress we experience in the U.S. is self-inflicted because of our affluence."
Madda’s greatest joy is seeing his kids make choices to give of themselves and their own resources to help others. Both his daughters chose to take a year off before college to do parish-related service work in metropolitan areas. His eldest chooses to forgo the classic college spring break trips to the beach in order to volunteer in places like Haiti and Albania. His second daughter will major in industrial engineering so she can use her skills in countries like Ghana to provide permanent structures and services rather than once a year when someone sets up a mission clinic.
"All of this came out of a men’s group and one Sunday Mass twelve years ago," Madda says. "I never would have imagined our family’s life being this way. There is nothing more fulfilling than to see my children with such a desire to serve others. It makes me think we must’ve done at least some things right."
To learn more about the Clap For Jesus foundation and the work it does to support education in rural Ghana, please visit clapforjesus.org.