Helping people isn't PR

Roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Malawi is a third-world country abundant in four things: AIDS, malaria, drought, and tobacco plants. Called only by her ironic first name, Madonna is an entertainer known for four things: conic boobs, scandalous music videos, devotion to the Kabbalah, and a lip-lock with Britney Spears.

Malawi used to enforce, by law, modest dress. Jeans on women are still generally considered unacceptable. Madonna used to tour dressed as a whip-cracking dominatrix, surrounded by topless dancers. Once during a concert in Puerto Rico, she rubbed the island’s flag between her legs on stage.

So when the Material Girl pledged to help the orphaned children in the southeast African country, we were incredulous.

We were even more skeptical when we heard that Madonna’s aid organization, Spirituality for Kids (a group based in the mystic, semi-Jewish religion Kabbalah), would be running the orphanage in a primarily Roman Catholic country.

Maybe we were wrong.

Madonna has promised to raise at least $3 million to fund programs that aid Malawian orphans, as the country is home to nearly one million children who have lost at least one parent to AIDS. Her orphan-care center will be built soon, and she’s financing a roughly $1 million documentary about the plight of Malawian children. She’s partnered with other aid organizations and also met with former president Bill Clinton to join forces and try to bring low-cost medicines to the area.

Considering that when she pledged her money Madonna had never stepped foot in Africa, her generosity looks an awful lot like publicity.

As philanthropy goes, Madonna seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. With Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie being the poster children for starving, ailing Africa — even choosing to have their own child there — Madonna’s charity appears as though it’s merely following the trend. After all, helping African orphans is an easy sell. They’re innocent, in need, and make for great photographs.

In the queen of pop’s defense, it was a Malawian who specifically approached her to ask for her help. Victoria Keelan, the managing director of a Malawian agricultural-supply company, contacted Madonna’s Spirituality for Kids foundation a year ago and asked for her help, according to Madonna responded quickly, vehemently, and in cash.

We’re all for celebrities using their fortunes to help the greater good. African assistance may be a fad, but it’s not a terrible trend to follow. Celebrities have the money, social influence, and PR power to make a significant difference.

We’re curious, though, as to why it’s the once-scandalous celebs who choose to champion third-world countries. Jolie, who has modeled in the nude and famously wore the blood of her ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton around her neck, has a tattooed prayer for her son covering an old tattoo of the Chinese character for death.

So while we support helping ailing African orphans, we don’t want the act to become the quick-fix for celebrities to get out of the trashier gossip columns.