Madonna wins over sceptics in Malawi
Her bid to whisk a one-year-old boy away from a life of poverty in an orphanage may have raised hackles elsewhere but for the people of Malawi, Madonna is a hero with her heart in the right place.
Eight months after she began the process to adopt little David Banda, the US singer returned to the impoverished southern African nation this week not only with her latest charge but also her biologicial daughter Lourdes.
But while accusations that her fame and wealth enabled her to fast-track the adoption process continue, the warm reception locals accorded Madonna and David indicated most are enchanted rather than appalled by the rags-to-riches story.
Gloria Yotamu was one of several hundred Malawians who gathered at David's old orphanage near the capital Lilongwe on Tuesday to watch the youngster return to his old stomping ground with his prospective mother.
Yotamu said she was particularly impressed that Madonna had brought David back to his roots so quickly and not simply immersed him in a new life of luxury at the star's mansion in London. "I know about her charity work and her wish to give David a good life," said Yotamu, who lives in a nearby squatter camp.
"Many people thought David was gone for good but here she is, returning the son to his roots and culture," said the 26-year-old who is herself the mother of four children. Local human rights groups have challenged an interim adoption order that was granted to Madonna last year and even some of the singer's fellow celebrities have questioned her motives, including the actress Angelina Jolie who called the adoption "illegal".
Madonna herself has been taken aback by some of the reaction, telling People magazine: "I did not expect the media, the government or any human rights organisations to take a stand against me trying to save a child's life."
According to Funsanani Yakobe, who makes his living by breaking stones in a a quarry close to the luxury lodge where Madonna has been staying, the carpers should keep quiet and instead ask what the government is doing for orphans.
"If there is someone like Madonna to help improve the lives of orphans, let it be, because we are failing to help ourselves," he said.
"Where does all the money that is meant for orphans go?" he asked. The number of orphans is growing rapidly in Malawi as a result of the AIDS pandemic which has not only claimed the lives of so many parents but also of relatives who would have once taken care of the youngsters.
Although David's father is still alive, his mother died shortly after she gave birth in September 2005. During her latest visit, Madonna also chatted with street children and prostitutes at a government-run rehabilitation centre in the capital Lilongwe where a number of wellwishers held placards reading:
"Madonna you are welcome" and "Don't listen to critics: We love you!" Even among sceptics, Madonna's return to swift return to Malawi had allayed any fears they had about her motives. Alfred Chapomba, founder of the Consol Homes orphans charity, said he does not believe in adoptions but rather believes orphans be raised in their same cultural and social backgrounds. However, he said Madonna had helped raise the profile of Malawi.
"Many people out there did not know the country existed and thought we are part of South Africa," he said. "We need more goodwill people like her," he added.