Saturday, April 6, 2013

For Once I Agree with Madonna

It seems Madonna's name's mud again - in Malawi at least. While I'm sure there's more to the story, and it is the Daily Fail reporting after all, it seems that Madonna had promised to build a $14 million academy and is now building more schools with a lower price tag.

I for one, say Good on yer Madge. No country in Africa needs a $14 million academy (or a $40 million Oprah school) when so many are going without any education at all. I wept when I heard how much money Oprah had spent on one school in South Africa. Her answer to criticism is that we are not to say  these children deserve only the bare minimum, and I agree with that also, but it's amazing how much you can teach children with what we in the affluent world call "the bare minimum".

The school I support in Ghana would appear to most as very, very basic, yet we are attracting more and more families, and more importantly, keeping more kids in school and sending more on to high school. Many of these students admit they would not be in school at all if they weren't collected or dropped off by the school bus we have provided. Many parents would have kept them at home if not for the fact that our nursery takes children from age 2, allowing mothers to work till 4 or 5 in the afternoon. You don't need fancy stuff, although computers, wi-fi and school buses help. You do need to pay the teachers enough to attract and retain them, you need to give hungry kids a hot meal in the middle of the day, you need to make sure that when one child is sick, the siblings can still get to school, you need to convince the parents that it really is worth educating the girls because they typically give more back to the family. I could go on but you get my drift.

Oh and another thing Madonna is being criticised for is firing all the staff when she learned of mis-management. Again, I say "well done". In many African countries the corruption is unbelievable, even for every day matters. Sometimes you have to work with it but when you can control it, you do. For example, when we send money to the school, we are careful not to send too much (not that we have a choice) because if it looks like construction is moving along too quickly, it must mean that the school principal has had a windfall. All of a sudden prices triple, extra permits are needed (at a price) and so on.

I no longer ship things to Ghana because every time we do, the boxes end up with huge holes in the sides and something goes missing. On the odd occasion when something arrived in one piece, our staff were made to wait ten hours at Tema port, the cost of the customs and excise going up by the hour. On that same day, when we had paid the required money, it still wasn't enough and we were asked to pay the fee for another woman who couldn't afford to retrieve her shipment. And this is government officials!

I can only imagine what was going on at Madonna's charity and she was probably right to close the whole thing down.


  1. I agree - think how many more children will be reached this way too.

  2. You know, I've honestly never thought about that issue - providing a 'top of the line' education for the few or providing a basic education for more. Seems to me that getting more kids educated now (and thereby increasing the well-being of more people overall) would be the way to go. Later on, they can worry about adding the 500% Egyptian cotton sheets (I remember reading something about the excellent sheet quality at Oprah's school when it first became a thing - that was one of just a few facts that stuck in my head) and the designer uniforms, right? And the corruption - how do you even begin to fight it, when it's an accepted fact of how things work? Good on you for not just throwing your hands up and walking away. Hope Madonna will be able to figure out a way to continue to help, though.

  3. MsC - it is very hard sometimes not to go berserk at the obstacles in the way. Especially when all you're trying to do is help. However, you have to respect that it's their country and no matter how much you think you know, they (the people you're involved with) usually really do know better.

  4. You are so right in everything you say. Every child should have the opportunity to go to school if only for a basic education. That can lead to better things if they learn to read and write and do simple maths.
    Corruption is a terrible handicap in that country,
    Maggie x

    Nuts in May

  5. You need more recognition for your work in Ghana! I think it is amazing what you have done and how knowledgeable you are about how things really get done there. x

  6. You walk the walk so you know whereof you speak. I am glad you persevere.

  7. Totally agree with you. Lots of smaller schools is surely the way to go.

    Fascinating post, Toni.


The more the merrier....

Blog Archive