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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 01:34 GMT
'Life-changing' Malawian adoption
By Thelma Etim
BBC News

As pop star Madonna is interviewed by Newsnight about her attempt to adopt 13-month-old David Banda, a British teacher reveals his experience of adopting a six-year-old Malawian boy.

Madonna with her children, Lourdes (left) and Rocco, and David Banda
Madonna says her older children have welcomed young David

In 2002, Becky and George Harrison, both 32, adopted George's nephew, Hope, after his mother, Helena, fell ill and died aged just 31.

My father is English and my mother is Malawian - he met her when he went to Malawi in 1967 as a VSO to teach.

For a while he worked in both Malawi and the UK, before we moved to Zambia for two years in 1978 and then finally to England.

Helena was my half-sister, I also have a half-brother, Keith, who is a lecturer.

Prior to going to Zambia, I spent two years living with an aunt up until the age of four. I spent very little time living with my parents - most of that period I was with my extended family in different parts of the country.

This was part of the tradition, a common occurrence - getting to know extended family members.

Malawian people have a certain level of detachment from their children. My mother was working in the city so it was easier to send me to one of her elder sisters.

It is churlish to say he David [Banda] was better off staying where he was, he could have become a statistic
George Harrison, Hope's new father

When Helena died, it just made more sense that my wife and I should adopt Hope.

The process took just two weeks - I didn't do a thing until Becky and I arrived in Malawi. I went to the British High Commission to get advice on how to adopt Hope.

At the time the legislation had just changed so that adoptions there were recognised by the UK so you did not have to go through the adoption process again on your return to England.

I went and found a lawyer, who said there was a prohibition when the adoptive parents were not resident in Malawi but that could be waived because of the familial circumstances.

There are adoption laws in Malawi. There is a process, a protocol and a procedure but whereas Britain has a well-funded bureaucracy, Malawi does not.

For example, we had to give the social welfare officer a lift to our court hearing.

They do not have the resources to be as effective as they would like to be and that is why they have so many orphanages.

There is a limit to how much an extended family can support children - the burden can fall on a small number of family members who may be more prosperous.

Pragmatic people

The Victorian view here of orphanages is very different in Malawi, where they are seen more like boarding schools. And there are so many orphanages as a result of people dying of HIV/AIDS.

Infant mortality is high and Malawians are quite pragmatic people who make pragmatic choices. The orphanages can offer food, education and can sometimes provide greater stability.

However, people in this country going to adopt Malawian children is not a solution to the country's poverty.

Hope's father, Freedom, died 12 months ago but we took Hope back to see him two years ago.

He was really grateful to me and my wife for what we had done but we were really grateful to him - it is and has been a real privilege having Hope.

Life changing

The positive effect on Hope's life is incalculable. For David [Banda] it will be and can be a life-changing thing. The poverty is absolute in that country in many respects.

We have two other children, Tessa, 12, and Benjamin, nine. David will have a brother and sister as companions.

If he grows to be fulfilled that is a good thing. It is churlish to say David was better off staying where he was - he could have become a statistic. It is easy to criticise and make judgments.

However, I hope that as David grows up people do not burden him as a great ambassador or symbol because that is a great cross to bear.

Everything that Hope has gained from being with us here in England we have gained 10 times more.

Madonna will appear on Newsnight on BBC Two at 2230 GMT on Wednesday.

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