Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Are we really surprised by Raphael Tenthani's Father of Madonna Orphan has Second Thoughts?! (rather catchy title though). To date I've kept quiet on this matter mostly because I was still making up my own mind, but I'm going to stick my neck over the parapet here and say that I strongly disagree with the whole unfortunate episode.

I think adopting a child because you want (and can) be a parent is a wonderful thing for both parent and child. BUT adopting a child because you want to save him/her is a very dangerous thing. The implication in my mind, perhaps unfairly, is that this is all about how good you feel about yourself and "saving" said child, than about actually wanting to be a parent. Even if this is sub-conscious on the part of the adoptive parents, it doesn't escape the fact that once the terrible teens arrive and usual stroppy behavior ensues, someone's going to throw around comments about "why am I adopted". "Saving you" and "giving you a better life" is just not going to wash well; I can only too well imagine the answering roar of "well, I didn't want to be saved and now I feel like an alien." The only sentiment which will hold up to scrutiny is "we wanted a child, we chose you and we love you very much."

Of course I say all this from the lofty heights of not having adopted children. The only international adoption case I know intimately, took literally years to come through, with mountains of paperwork and interviews and home checks and...the list goes on. I have to say it is the very rapidity of the Madonna case which makes me uneasy. So, she is wealthy and famous - that does not mean she will be a good parent to a small Malawian boy.

What is striking about this particular case, as the linked article shows, is a marked misunderstanding of cultural practice. Yohane Banda says "Our understanding was that they [Madonna and British filmmaker husband Guy Ritchie] would educate and take care of our son just as they were doing at the orphanage,":
Banda said his understanding was that "when David grows up he will return back home to his village". He said the director of child welfare services, Penston Kilembe, and the retired pastor who heads the Home of Hope orphanage -- where David spent most of his life -- never told him that "adoption" meant David would cease to be his son.
And, most crucially, '"If we were told that she wants to take the baby as her own, we could not have consented because I see no reason why I should give away my son," he said'.

Context is everything. In a society where the extended family structure is a network which supports the nation, sending one's child to an orphanage is still seen as part of the same kind of network - a supporting structure to keep the family together through a difficult period. Mr Banda knew where baby David was and expected him to return to the family as a working participant once he was older. That may sound harsh, but life is harsh for many people in sub-Saharan Africa. It does not mean that baby David was not loved by his father, however, and putting the child in an orphanage must be understood from the perspective of the extended family support structure.
"Our understanding as a family is that David is still part and parcel of our clan," said Zimba. "After the good woman nurtures and educates him, he will return back."
is clearly not what Madonna was expecting to hear, nor do I think she understood this about Malawian culture.

I also find it worrying that Mr Banda has no copies of the adoption papers. He cannot read, but others will be able to around him and he has the right to at least have facsimiles.

Interestingly, the article concludes:
Madonna, who came to Malawi on October 4 with Ritchie, spent eight days visiting six orphanages she is funding through her Raising Malawi charity. She is also establishing her own Consol Homes to help up to 4 000 orphans and underprivileged children in Mphandula village, 50km outside Lilongwe.
Assuming all this is true, that sounds like a very worthwhile project and with longterm commitment could contribute significantly to the lives of these children. Part of me wonders whether this sort of longterm charity fundraising and commitment (also requiring a great deal of time, effort and investment, in fact considerably more than just hiring a nanny) would not have been a better option for Madonna to settle with. In any case, if it is just about saving a child or "giving them a better life", there are plenty of marginalised American and British children who fall into that category.

I feel the whistle of barbs returning my way, so go ahead and let me know what you think, I'll not duck below the parapet too quickly!


Blogger The Traveller said...

This isn't relevant to the post, just to say thanks for the comment on my blog. I'm looking forward to reading your guide to African literature. It is so neglected and I can't understand why.

7:12 pm  
Blogger Debi said...

No barbs from me - just thanks that you have posted on this. It's a complicated subject and I'm glad the debate is taking place.

Actually I agree with all your misgivings. I was also concerned last night to hear the interview with Oprah in which Madge said if she didn't adopt David he would die because there were no drugs available to treat his illness.

Err - so he was the only sick child??? And I know she's supposedly given loadsamoney already, but wouldn't it have been better to use it to provide those drugs for all rather than save just one?

And if she HAS done that (which we don't know) doesn't that contradict her stated aim that adoption was the only way to save his life?

11:20 am  
Blogger equiano said...

dear traveller - very sad that so much great literature from the continent is ignored, but mostly that's just because folks don't know where to look for it. I am just delighted that you are beginning your own foray into the wonderful world of African books!

Debi - I forgot to set the recorder and missed the Oprah/Madge interview! You're absolutely right that this is such a complicated and thorny issue. Because of course, the life of every single child is precious and all should be given a chance. Good on Madonna to try and do something, but I'm still nervous - will this be another passing fad, or is she in for the long haul?

1:19 pm  

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