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“My commitment has never wavered. And here we are about to embark on our biggest project yet with the pediatric surgeryproject at Queen Elizabeth Hospital,” explained Madonna, as she discussed her latest effort to help the children of Malawi. In an interview following her recent visit to the country, we talked how she initially became involved in bringing attention and awareness to the plight of children in Africa, how the decision came about to build and donate a new pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi, her new Goodwill Ambassador position bestowed upon her by President Mutharika, and much more.
What was the moment or experience that led to your incredible passion and interest in making a difference in Malawi?
When I discovered that there were over a million children orphaned by AIDS, living in one of the poorest countries in Africa, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to get involved and do what I could to help bring awareness to the situation. I ended up making a documentary about Malawi called I Am Because We Are and adopted two children. Going on this journey made me more determined to use my platform in the world to do what I could to make a difference.
On your most recent trip, it was announced that you would be building and donating a two-story, pediatric intensive care unit at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital--the first of its kind in the country. How did that decision come about and why did you decide on pediatric care in particular?
I decided to do this most of all because of an amazing human being named Dr. Eric Borgstein. He is my hero. He is one of three pediatric surgeons in the entire country and he has devoted his life to saving the lives of children seven days a week, 365 days a year. I witnessed him make miracles happen with little support or financial backing. After spending time with him it became clear to me that many lives were lost because of the lack of an intensive care unit in the hospital. That, coupled with the fact that half of the population of Malawi is under the age of fifteen was all the incentive I needed to agree to building this much needed facility. The new pediatric surgery unit will serve more children and will provide a world-class training center for more pediatric doctors and nurses in Malawi.
Also on this trip, President Mutharika named you Malawi's Goodwill Ambassador for Child Welfare. How will you use this newfound recognition and platform to further your work not only for the children of Malawi, but Africa more broadly?
It is an honor to be named Goodwill Ambassador by President Mutharika. I have been committed to helping Malawi for many years, so the President’s support of my work is extremely meaningful to me. There is a great deal of hardship in Malawi, but I also see great opportunity, resilience, and joy—even in the face of extreme poverty. As Goodwill Ambassador, I intend to make helping the children of Malawi a global priority. While there are already a number of generous donors and organizations working there, I welcome new partners to work with me in the “Warm Heart of Africa.”
What have been some of the challenges you've had to overcome over the years when it comes to advocacy and awareness on these issues, and how have you pushed through some of those barriers?
It is important to remember the expression “no good deed goes unpunished.” This saying has kept me going during the many challenges I have faced. I set out on this journey to helpchildren orphaned by AIDS, not to win a popularity contest. However, nothing prepared me for the level of doubt and suspicion aimed at my intentions. Nevertheless, seeing the results of Raising Malawi’s work and watching peoples’ lives change for the better haskept me going. When you believe passionately in a cause, you find a way to break through the noise to make an impact in other peoples’ lives, despite the criticism. I made many mistakes in the beginning, hiring people that were not effective and dealing with a lack of operational efficiency. However, I have learned from my mistakes and I have strengthened many long-standing relationships and programs that we started. My commitment has never wavered. And here we are about to embark on our biggest project yet with the pediatric surgeryproject at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
When it comes to philanthropy, what's next for Madonna?
I am passionate about education in general but specifically for women and children. Knowledge is power! Access to education changes lives, especially for girls. Outside of Malawi, I have a foundation called Ray of Light, whichprovides this type of support in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Haiti, Palestine, and Detroit. I will continue to partner with brave individuals and organizations fighting to empower women and children around the world. I want to wake people up to what is happening outside of their comfort zone and inspire them to join me on my journey to change the world.