Parenting: Madonna, Malawi and a tale of two children

One African child dines in a Knightsbridge restaurant and the other often falls asleep hungry. Steve Bloomfield reports

Life began in very similar ways for David Banda and Lydia Solomon. David was born in the village of Lipunga, 100 miles east of Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, in September 2006. Lydia was born one month later, 10 miles down the road in Chikoi.

David's mother died in childbirth. Lydia's mother passed away when she was nine days old. David's father struggled to cope and sought help from the local orphanage. Lydia's father gave up and left her with her grandmother.

Their lives are very different now. Although the official Malawian adoption hearing isn't until 15 May, since the day Madonna plucked David out of his orphanage and began adoption proceedings 18 months ago his world has become dazzlingly luxurious. Apart from the opulent townhouse in London's Mayfair, the family own a sprawling home in Beverly Hills, an apartment in New York and a bucolic estate in Wiltshire. Lydia, meanwhile, lives in a mud-walled hut in a village with no electricity or running water, cared for by her grandmother, Evelyn Matteo.

Two weeks ago David was having dinner at the ritzy Knightsbridge restaurant San Lorenzo – where a typical Italian meal will cost £65. A local orphan care group provided milk for Lydia while she was a baby. Now they give her a small portion of maize flour each week for Evelyn to make porridge. "Many days Lydia will go to sleep hungry," Evelyn says. Evelyn makes just 60 kwacha a week – about 20p – by picking groundnuts from a nearby field.

Such a tale is far from extraordinary in a country where government officials class two million children as "vulnerable" out of a total population of 13 million. Of those, 500,000 have lost one parent, another 500,000 have lost both. Intercountry adopters are advised to keep their child in touch with their own heritage as much as possible, but going back to Malawi would be traumatic for David Banda as his life now is so dramatically different.

Most of these have lost their parents to HIV, the country's biggest killer, which has infected 14 per cent of the adult population. "Malawi is suffering from an HIV/Aids pandemic and the number of orphans is on the rise," said Malla Mabona, a senior adviser in the country's Ministry of Women and Child Development.

The number of Malawian children classed as orphans in 2004, when a survey was last completed, was 14 per cent. That figure is expected to increase to 18 per cent by 2010.

HIV not only deprives children of their parents: it takes away their childhood. A 10-minute walk from Lydia's village is the home of three children: Chifundo, 14, Jacob, 11, and Teresia, 10. Their parents died of Aids within months of each other in 1998. Their grandmother looked after them for a few years, but gradually became ill herself. For as long as Chifundo can remember he has been the family's main breadwinner.

Like Lydia's grandmother, Chifundo works long days in nearby fields picking groundnuts. He receives 15 kwacha (5p) for every 20-litre bucket he fills. If he works alone he can fill two in a day. If Jacob and Teresia help they can fill five.

But this is during the harvest season. When it is raining, there is little work to be found.

"There are days when we have nothing to eat," Chifundo says. His dream of becoming a policeman went the moment he left school and started work at the age of eight. It was the moment he lost his childhood.

"I think about it a lot, but I accept it," he says, straightening his ripped T-shirt and trying to brush the dirt off his shorts. "I am not angry. We have had to get used to it. It is the situation we have."

The villages where David and Lydia were born lie deep inside Mchinji district in the central region of Malawi. The turn-off from the main road leading to them is a red, dirt track lined with maize and tobacco fields.

Piles of freshly harvested corn lie in ox carts by the side of the road. Teenage boys cycle past with bags of tobacco precariously balanced on their backs. Women carry sacks of firewood, young girls carry as many branches as they can. It is a long way from London.

A local human rights group there claims that Madonna used her fame to bypass Malawian laws banning inter-country adoption. David's father, Yohane, has said he regrets agreeing to the adoption and has accused Madonna of cutting him out of his son's life. But few believe the court will bring David back to Malawi. Officials at the Ministry of Women and Child Development believe the move is in David's "best interests".

Evelyn Matteo has smaller, but no less significant, dreams for Lydia. "I see Lydia one day being a secretary and living in the city. She will be able to support herself and her family. That is my wish."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor