More than a decade of charity work in Malawi came full-circle for Madonna on Tuesday (July 11) when, after opening a children’s hospital wing in the impoverished South African country, its president named the pop star “the daughter of this nation.”
And while President Peter Mutharika’s phrasing was meant to reference Madonna’s own adoption of four children from Malawi, the singer has tight enough connections of her own to the country for it to feel like home. Since founding the nonprofit Raising Malawi in 2006, the charitable star has led a continuous effort to support the nation’s orphaned or otherwise vulnerable children — whether through hosting benefits, producing a documentary and, now, opening the Mercy James Institute of Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, the first of its kind in the country.
The singer’s efforts haven’t come without inevitable road blocks — not to mention a few controversies. But if our roundup of the landmark moments in Madonna’s charity efforts in the African country is any indication, the singer will continue to be a “daughter” of Malawi for years to come.
2006: Madonna makes her first trip to Malawi
Madonna was first spurred to visit the South African nation after a Malawian businesswoman, admiring Madonna’s previous work with the nonprofit Spirituality for Kids, reached out to the pop star in hopes that she’d be willing to offer a hand in Malawi too. Madonna did much more than that — shortly after taking up the invitation, the singer made a second trip to Malawi, where she adopted her son David. It wasn’t long before Madonna would take a bigger step toward aiding the poverty-stricken country with the founding of Raising Malawi.
2008: Raising Malawi holds star-packed fundraiser at United Nations headquarters
Celebrities like Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez and Tom Cruise forked over up to $10,000 each to attend a Madonna-fronted fundraiser at the United Nations’ New York headquarters back in 2008. Though the pop star faced backlash for her choice of event partner — Gucci, which was promoting a new store in the city at the time — the event reportedly raised $3.7 million, which was split between benefiting Raising Malawi and Unicef, the children’s arm of the UN.
2008: Madonna presents I Am Because We Are documentary
That same year, the pop star took her charity work to the big screen with I Am Because We Are, a documentary she wrote and produced for the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by first-timer Nathan Rissman, the film follows Madonna as she journeys through Malawi, introducing viewers to the country’s orphaned children and gleaning insights from interviews with professors, experts and even former President Bill Clinton.
2013: Madonna opens 10 schools in Malawi in partnership with buildOn
In January 2012, international youth-serving nonprofit buildOn announced a partnership with Madonna and her foundation to construct 10 primary schools in rural Malawi within 18 months. In fact, the schools were completed in just 12 months. Raising Malawi provided $300,000 to buildOn for the project, which aimed to serve about 1,000 boys and girls in the nation. The success came after a string of setbacks — earlier in 2011, Madonna’s organization had scrapped plans to build a $15 million girls’ school in the country due to financial mismanagement.
2014: Malawi President Peter Mutharika appoints Madonna the country’s Goodwill ambassador for child welfare
Shortly after Madonna spent Thanksgiving in Malawi with her adopted Malawian children, Mercy James and David Banda, Mutharika added a new title to Madonna’s belt: the nation’s Goodwill ambassador for child welfare. At the time, the singer had also just launched her now-fulfilled goal to open the Mercy James Institute — and was still recovering from the tabloid mess that ensued after her very public falling-out with Malawi’s former president, Joyce Banda.
2016: Madonna flies to Malawi to check in on Mercy James Institute construction
The singer and several Rising Malawi team members took a trip to Malawi last year to ensure that the Mercy James Institute was coming along smoothly. During the trip, they also met with Muthrika to discuss girls’ education and visited the Home of Hope orphanage, where they played soccer with the school’s children. “Children are the future,” Madonna says in a video documenting the trip (below). “Ultimately, my children have been my teachers.”
2016: Madonna’s “Evening of Art, Mischief, and Music” rakes in $7.5 million for Raising Malawi
A benefit held by Madonna in Miami last winter — and held smack in the middle of the city’s annual Art Basel fair — invited 450 guests to bid on art and experiences in a live auction. The event raised $7.5 million toward Raising Malawi’s goal to open the Mercy James Institute. To thank attendees for their donations, the glamorous party closed with a performance by Madonna herself.
2017: Raising Malawi’s Mercy James Institute children’s hospital wing opens its doors
The pediatric surgery and intensive care unit, named after one of Madonna’s adopted Malawian children, finally celebrated its official opening July 11. Located at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the city of Blantyre, the institute has already completed its first surgery, Madonna said at the ceremony, where she was praised by Mutharika for her service. “You started by adopting four Malawian children,” he explained. “Now we are adopting you as the daughter of this nation.”