To Ethiopia With Love - Help is On the Way

By George WhiteDecember 18, 2003, 5:00 pm
He is a part-time comedian who runs a golf-ball manufacturing company in the Charleston, S.C., area. He dabbles in writing funny stuff for the comics ' Jay Leno was a one-time client. He sells normal golf balls as well as non-conforming ' the USGA wouldnt approve of them if youd bother to check. And ' he is on a mission that is doubly important for the Christmas season, one which is rather strange for a golf-ball peddler.
Michael Fechter wants to rescue orphans in Ethiopia ' or rather, those orphans who have the HIV virus. He is using the sales of his golf balls ' under the label Fireball - to raise revenue. He has been in business for six years and has been dabbling with the idea for about a year now.
His ex-wife, Deborah Milling, was reading a story in the New York Times last year about the orphanage ' called Enat (meaning mother.) An untold number of mothers and fathers have already succumbed to AIDS. Next to perish are their children. There is not the $50-$80 a month to purchase each child the AIDS cocktail that would keep the little ones alive. All the orphanage staff can do is to make the child as comfortable as possible in its last days, then watch them die.
I think you can do something to help them, said the ex-wife, herself a physician, to a suddenly startled Fechter.
Fechter did a double-take. I said, You know, Im really sort of busy failing as a golf-ball maker and a comedian. Thats very kind that you think so much of me that I can help people all the way across the world. Im trying to keep a golf ball company afloat until I can become a comedian again, Fechter said.
But he couldnt brush off the wife so summarily. He thought about it for a couple more minutes, then sighed.
I told her, Ill make a deal with you ' let me go to Los Angeles next week and fail at this next TV show. As soon as I get back, Ill start failing on an international level.
To make a very long story short, hes now dedicated to this project. Failure is a possibility. The effort is not.
It just sort of hit me after thinking about if for about a month ' I said, You know, Ill bet I could run my company to benefit these children. That would make for a unique golf company.
From golf balls to orphans in Ethiopia ' now theres a curious mix. But Fechter looks like hes done it. And hes done it just in time for Christmas. The first check will go out at the end of the Yule season.
He took on an investor - anonymous by request - who has a large amount of international business experience - in fact he owns a drug company that develops HIV and malaria drugs and the like, explained Fechter. And he got serious with a project that is anything BUT serious.
I decided to hold a comedy show that is scheduled to be held March 1st at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to benefit these children. Its being co-sponsored by Save the Children and the Worldwide Orphan Foundation.
Will he make a difference? The odds are against it ' they are against anyone making a difference in this disease-ravaged world 8,000 miles away.
There is a terrible sameness to the stories, wrote Melissa Fay Greene in the Times. They all head down the same path - the mothers death; then the fathers; or father died, then mother, then small sister, then funny baby brother. Alone, bringing out the words of the familys end, a childs eyes fill with tears; the chest fills with sobs.
Bedtime is the worst, when all the shenanigans die down. At night, the ghosts and visions and bad dreams visit the children. Through the open windows, you can hear kids crying into their pillows.
Fechter doesnt know how much money he will be able to give. But Wilson Sporting Goods has already signed on to help. Hes negotiating with a couple of youth groups to help sell the golf balls. And all profits, Fechter says, will go straight to the orphanage in Ethiopia.
But he will get something, too. He will understand the real meaning of this Yule season. Its a very rare feeling.
Related Links:
  • Learn more about Fireball Golf
  • Contact Michael Fechter
    Email your thoughts to George White
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