It may take years – if ever – for Madonna’s new documentary ‘I Am Because We Are’ to be shown in the dusty Lipunga Village, some 200 kilometres from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. There is electricity no here, let alone videos, but this is where one of the principle ‘actors’ in the documentary hails from.
The US pop diva and her British film-maker husband, Guy Ritchie, are in the final stages of adopting two-year-old David Banda, who comes from this village.
David’s 33-year-old biological father, Yohane Banda, said he has heard that Madonna’s documentary has premiered in New York, US and is anxious to see it. “Somebody called me to say he saw clips of the documentary on TV,” he said, referring to a BBC World news story aired last Friday, adding “I wish I was able to see it myself.”
Banda, who – like most residents in this village of about 20 households – live in a mud grass-and-thatch hut, does not own a TV set. Most villagers here have to travel to the Mchinji District headquarters – some 70 kilometres away – to watch movies or the English Premier League from pay video houses.
In the documentary, Madonna says David’s mother had died in childbirth, three of his siblings had died and no one knew the whereabouts of his father. Banda however said this was not true . “David was born on 25 September, 2005 and by the end of the month, his mother died,” he recalled, adding “we panicked since he was too young to take any solid food and we were too poor to feed him on milk formula.”
Banda, a peasant farmer who ekes a living from growing maize, tomatoes and potatoes, said the family made a decision to approach Rev. Thom Chipeta, the retired cleric who runs Home of Hope Orphanage in the district. “When they took him in, I could cycle to the orphanage at least twice a week, bringing him little things. If I was tied up, his grand-mother would go to see him. It isn’t true that we abandoned him,” he said. But Banda does not blame Madonna . “I think she is working with what she was told. Why they told her that, I don’t understand.”
The soft-spoken Banda, speaking in the Malawi lingua franca, Chichewa, said he felt David’s story and the story of orphans in Malawi (the central theme in Madonna’s documentary), could have been told better if makers of the documentary had thought of including him. “I have been asked why I could surrender David to the orphanage while I was alive and well,” he said, noting “we can’t say David was an orphan; he had at least a father but how could I feed a one-week old baby?”
Banda said the original plan was to withdraw David when he was old enough to feed on solid food, at about two years. “We could have repossessed him by now, but things have changed now,” he said.
Banda, who has since re-married, however, said he does not regret putting up his son for adoption. “When the pastor (Rev. Chipeta) approached us that some rich white woman was interested in David, we sat down as a family to consider it. After banging our heads together we thought this was good for David, so we readily agreed.”
At first Banda, who had not heard of Madonna then, did not know who the ‘rich white woman’ was.
In Malawi common parlance ‘dona’ means ‘rich woman’ so Banda thought it was just some ‘rich white woman’, not a world famous celebrity of Madonna’s status.
Among the reasons that compelled Banda and his family to readily accept Madonna’s offer to adopt David was the fact that David’s two older siblings died in infancy.
In fact Banda’s new wife, Flora, also bore him a still-birth late last year.
According to Banda: “We thought this was David’s surest chance to survive. After losing two sons [the still-birth came after Madonna had already taken David], I really wanted David to survive.”
Banda said when he met the singer and her husband in the High Court in Lilongwe on 12 October, 2006 and Justice Andrew Nyirenda gave the celebrity couple temporary custody order to take away David, he was promised he would be seeing his son once in a while. “Madonna promised they will be bringing my son to Malawi after three or four years so that he knows his roots,” he recalled, stressing “I don’t have reason to doubt her sincerity.”
Asked why he was not allowed to re-unite with his son in April last year when the singer brought David and daughter Lourdes to Malawi, Banda said: “I appreciate the adoption process is not yet concluded. Maybe that would not have been proper.”
Banda revealed that Penstone Kilembe, Malawi’s Director of Child Welfare Service, has contacted him to be ready because the controversial adoption case was coming before Justice Nyirenda in May. “Mr. Kilembe told me to be ready since I will be required to witness the conclusion of the adoption,” he said.
Justice Nyirenda appointed 15 May as the date he will start hearing the case. He will review the two mandatory assessment reports Ad Litum Simon Chisale, Malawi’s Chief Child Welfare Officer, made after visiting the Madonna house-hold twice.
Sources privy to the case nonetheless said the court hearing will basically be symbolic since Chisale’s reports are very supportive of the adoption.
In both reports Chisale wrote a glowing account of how David has “bonded well” with his adoptive family and “Your Lordship, in conclusion, the assessment of the child’s growth and development and the status of his settlement as observed from two visitations and reports from the Social Worker at Children and Community Services in London all agree that there is continuous excellent progress, and in the best interests of the child, I do recommend the petitioners to your lordship for your consideration that they be granted an Adoption Order having proved that they are suitable parents and satisfied the conditions in the Interim Adoption Order.”
When he ordered the two visitations 12 October, 2006, Justice Nyirenda said he will automatically revoke the temporary custody order if he was convinced David was being treated differently from the Ritchies’ other children, Lourdes and Rocco, and that any of his human rights were being violated in any way.
Madonna found a then frail and sickly David at the Home of Hope Orphanage through Raising Malawi, the charity she founded for her Malawi cause. She is currently funding six orphanages as well as her own outside the capital, Lilongwe, where some 4,000 children are getting some education and food.
During the premiere of the documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Madonna told reporters: “We are responsible for each other and if we can help in any way, shape or form, we should.”
Excerpts from “I am because we are”