At first glance, Malawi’s Home of Hope is a rag-tag collection of ramshackle, dilapidated buildings in a hot, dusty field that would most likely give rise to despair. To the keener eye, however, the orphanage from which Madonna adopted 13-month-old David Banda is a lively hive of purposeful activity.
Students and teachers discuss lessons as they walk in the campus at Mchinji, in the foothills of the green mountains that separate Malawi from Zambia. A dozen youngsters are at work in a mill, grinding maize grown in nearby fields. Others carry freshly harvested tomatoes, onions and peanuts. Teenagers blow off steam after exams by playing spirited games of football and basketball in their bare feet and with makeshift balls. A dozen girls, in clothes frayed but clean, sit chatting on a log in the shade.
Outwardly shabby, perhaps, but clearly a place rich with inspiration, Home of Hope appears to be living up to its name as a haven for several hundred of Malawi’s one million children orphaned by Aids or malaria.
The orphanage is the work of 77-year-old Presbyterian minister Thomson Chipeta. In 1998 Chipeta started the facility because he had taken in so many children who had lost their parents. The orphan centre has grown in response to Malawi’s increasing need and also as a result of Chipeta’s vision and success in raising funds from Europe, Canada, South Africa and Malawi.
Chipeta is like the school he created, rough-hewn and impressive. His handshake is firm, his gaze is clear. ‘We have 500 young people here, ranging in age from one to 18. We have a primary school and a full secondary school. Some of our graduates go on to technical training colleges. Education is the way these youngsters can make something of their lives.’
But his face clouds over at the mention of Madonna’s recent visit. ‘The complaints, the court case, the trouble, the press,’ says Chipeta, furrows of worry suddenly creasing his brow. He is at pains to insist that the adoption has been done correctly, but is clearly concerned about the court case and the possibility that the government would think that Home of Hope has done anything wrong.
‘It has tainted everything. We have worked to do everything properly, but we cannot accept visitors freely now. We cannot afford to make matters worse.’ Clearly the controversy and glare of publicity has been an ordeal for Chipeta.
Despite the impending court battle, most Malawians say they are pleased by Madonna’s adoption and by the interest generated in helping the country deal with its burden of vulnerable children. ‘Home of Hope is a wonderful school, a very good place,’ said schoolteacher Sapensia Banda, who cycled 10 miles to invigilate at exams. ‘But the baby who was adopted, he will have even better opportunities. Let’s hope he will come back and help us all.’ Businessman Dik Mlenga agrees: ‘I was raised by my cousin, so I know how tough it can be. She has done a good thing for that boy.’
There is an air of expectancy in Malawi. Clouds are gathering and the annual rains are about to begin. Fields are ploughed and ready for the new maize crop. Malawians are hoping for good rains and good harvests. Likewise, they are hoping that the world’s unexpected attention will bring positive results. Love her or loathe her, Madonna’s foray has stimulated a lively international debate about how best to deal with the continent’s vulnerable children, more than 48 million, according to UN estimates.
Aids, malaria and other diseases create orphans and also prey on the small children. Malawi, one of Africa’s poorest countries is also one of the most densely populated. For more than 20 years, the country has had a problem of chronic malnutrition among an estimated 20 per cent of its children.
More significant for Malawi than Madonna’s headline-grabbing adoption is her pledge to establish an orphan care centre. About 20 miles down the road from Home of Hope, in Namitete, Madonna’s new organisation, Raising Malawi, is planning to build a centre that will assist thousands of parentless children. Working with Consol Homes, a community-based Malawian organisation, Madonna’s group plans to build a kitchen and feeding centre, a pre-school unit, a centre for older orphans, a separate centre for widows and grandmothers, play areas and a teaching garden. Phase two will see the establishment of a primary school.
The new centre will be surrounded by 26 villages with a population of 30,000 people, of whom 16,000 are children. It is estimated that the centre will assist more than 4,000 orphans.
‘We like to operate with the surrounding communities, to keep the children in their extended families,’ says Alfred Chapomba, who has won a reputation as one of Malawi’s most effective child care activists as director of Consol Homes. ‘This is a problem of critical, national importance,’ he says. ‘We must all work together: government, local communities and the international donors, all of us.’
Close to Namitete, on the tarred road to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, stands a small naked boy with a swollen belly. He is dusty and glares at cars and trucks with fierce, disturbed eyes. He hops out of the way of hooting vehicles. Other children by the road shout at him. Could he be one of Malawi’s orphans, hungry and alienated and in need of assistance?
‘Home of Hope and Consol Homes are two outstanding institutions, but they are the exceptions. There are many more groups that are struggling to get enough food for children and are poorly equipped or cannot provide education. Many children are dying of hunger and disease,’ said Rob Jamieson, editor of Lilongwe’s Chronicle newspaper. ‘Madonna has focused international attention on our problem. We look forward to her sustained interest in our children. If she keeps at it down the years, I think it will really be something.
‘I don’t know why she picked Malawi, but thank God she did.’
source : the observer