By Kassandra Norrie
A few weeks ago as I was preparing to leave for Malawi and excitedly telling my friends about Transformative Praxis: Malawi I heard your name over and over again. The only time that most of my friends had heard of Malawi was in relation to your adopted children and the charitable work done by your organization Raising Malawi. When I told people I was coming to Malawi I was often cut off with, “that’s where Madonna’s kids are from” or “Madonna built a school there”. I had heard about both of these statements before but never really thought about either or done any research of my own. People at home in Canada make a happy connection when thinking of Malawi and Madonna, so I thank you for making little Malawi known to the world but that is where my thanks stop.
I landed in Lilongwe two weeks ago and have since been living in the Kasungu region of Malawi. When speaking with other educators in Malawi your name does not provoke the same reaction here as it does at home. I was in disbelief when I was told that you have never actually built a school here. Really Madonna? If I was home I would have just Googled this on my phone. But today I had to get a ride to Kasungu Town to the closest internet café. I waited for what seemed like forever as the dialup connection was made because I wanted to know the truth. I opened webpage after webpage and they all said the same two things 1) despite millions being spent the Raising Malawi Academy For Girls project never broke ground 2) you claim to have built ten schools when really you have only renovated and built classrooms on existing government schools. Madonna, it really seems like you are overstating your contributions here in Malawi. I heard about land that was given to you to build your school for girls, I read every word written on the Raising Malawi website, and I even saw the promotional pictures of you laying the first brick, but is that all it was? Promotional? And what were you promoting exactly? Yourself being a philanthropist or the fact that schools are desperately needed right now in Malawi. The tiny eight room school block near our campus site hosts 1434 primary students, so I really hope those promotional pictures were about the desperate need for schools in Malawi and not all about your image.
During my rushed research in the tiny internet café today I found lots of numbers about your budget so I’m going to use the smallest figures I saw to not overstate any contributions (as some of us are here). Your project had a budget of $15 million to work with and you spent $2.4 million before even breaking ground, so now I have some questions for you, because maybe I am confused.
7. Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards education in Malawi?
Madonna, we have one thing in common, we don’t like to hear the word “no” from anyone. For very different reasons I believe. You are the pop star who thinks it’s okay to ask a third world country to roll out the red carpet for you when you wave around money in the name of education. I on the other hand, won’t allow people to say “no” to me when I am doing what I know is right and good.
Again, correct me if I am wrong: You may have come to Malawi with great and honourable intentions, but you got lost and gave up. You promised education to some of the neediest girls in the world and then you took it away. You made a promise of elite education, but then renovated some classrooms instead. You claimed to be dedicated to helping the extreme poor and orphaned children of Malawi, but then spent $2.4 million that cannot be accounted for. You heard the word “no” and then you gave up. This is where we are different. I have been told “no” many times in the field of education, and every time I do it makes me fight harder. I was told “no” when I thought I could not come to Malawi this year, but with the support of amazing people I am here. I was told “no” when lack of funding jeopardized student projects and experiential learning, but I raised money with only a few weeks left before our departure (and I can’t throw concerts for my rich celebrity friends on the North Lawn of the United Nations in New York). I was told “no” when my team was hit with issue after issue after arriving on site in Chilanga, but we found solutions together every time. You may hate to hear the word “no”, but at least it does not take the fight out of me.
I am not making accusations; these are real questions that I am posing to you. Madonna, I have to ask you again: Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards education in Malawi? I’m not quite sure either. But I am imagining it now, and it’s a heck of a lot more than one school for girls that never broke ground.
P.S. Why don’t you take a chance on us and see what Transformative Praxis: Malawi can do with the rest of your $15 million?
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here