MADONNA AND CHILD: IN his column, Ray Mallon (Echo, Oct 20) gave an excellent synopsis of the controversy surrounding Madonna in her efforts to adopt a one-year-old boy from Malawi.

Rather than applauding her efforts, the majority of the media reports have condemned her decision instead of considering the needs of the child - the fact that David Banda had spent most of his life in an orphanage with 500 other children since his mother died giving birth.

I don't recall a media report questioning who was looking after David's welfare and the fact that the orphanage had no medication to take care of his pneumonia.

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These reports have failed to acknowledge Madonna's charity work, which brought her to Malawi in the first place. Very little has been mentioned of her £1m donation to build and run an orphanage in that country.

It is a very courageous move for anyone to give a loving life to a child who has not had the opportunities we take for granted.

I hope the negative stories which some parties have chosen to report will not discourage other people considering the adoption process. - Councillor David Harrington, Independent Councillor, Ingleby Barwick East Ward, Stockton.

MULTICULTURALISM

GERARD Wild (HAS, Oct 21) has a peculiar idea of multiculturalism. It does not mean segregation. A multicultural society includes people from many different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, and celebrates and enjoys the benefits of this diversity.

At the same time, it is a community of communities, held together by shared values, common laws and constructive interaction between different cultural groups.

This integration is essential - without it, multiculturalism fails and social disintegration results. There is some concern this may be starting to happen now, for reasons which are various and complex.

However, many of those who are currently misrepresenting multiculturalism as a failed experiment (as if it were something new) are not promoting integration, but assimilation.

This is the "us and them" mentality, which says "we" are the indigenous race, and if "they" come over here, they should abandon their own cultural identities and adapt to our ways.

This is a recipe for alienation, persecution and conflict. There is no "us and them". As Mr Wild acknowledges, we are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants, although new groups of immigrants have always been greeted with some degree of hostility. - Pete Winstanley Durham.

MUSLIM VEILS

I HAVE read with interest all the HAS letters regarding Muslim women wearing veils.

As a profoundly deaf person, I would have to ask anyone wearing a veil, mask or any other face-covering garment to remove it.

Without being able to lip-read or study facial expressions, I would stand no chance of understanding any conversation whatsoever.

I even have to ask my dentist to remove his mask so I can find out exactly what treatment I am about to be given. - Ann Robson (Mrs), Carrville, Durham.

AS an elderly English woman, I thank Jack Straw for his sensible comments on Muslim face veils. I feel frightened and intimidated by these weird figures on our streets, so how are our children expected to cope in a school situation?

We are a tolerant people, but integration will never happen while we are expected to communicate with faceless black material. - Name supplied, Shildon, Co Durham.

CITY REGIONS

ROB Merrick's comments (Echo, Oct 19) were useful in helping us understand the machinations behind proposals for local government changes.

Apparently, most councils are not keen on them, which should really be an end to the matter were we still living in an independent British democracy.

It seems if city mayors and executive boards are accepted for Newcastle and Tees Valley we would be provided with the means to extend our rail links, etc. If we don't accept, then forget it. Outrageous. A democratic government's job is to reflect the wishes of its people, not manipulate them with bribes.

No individual councillor, MP or mayor is all-knowing. He/she is subject to making mistakes, maybe being secretive and dishonest about their motivations, even becoming self-serving or a control freak.

That is why no one with the decision on how our taxes will be spent should be able to act other than openly and be accountable via an election.

The electorate should be given a fair indication of their priorities concerning how those taxes or rates will be spent before their election. Leave unaccountable regional mayors, "boards" and bribery to the EU. - Charlotte Bull, UK Independence Party, Darlington.

HARVEST FESTIVALS

WHAT is happening to our traditional harvest festival?

I remember as a child taking tins and fresh fruit to school. Bread was often donated by a bakery or breadshop. We'd sing hymns, say prayers, then off to class. The goods would be boxed up and delivered to the old folk. A good cause, well done.

This has continued at least all my life, even with my own kids. The old always to benefit.

Now we are in the 21st Century, and schools are trying to get rid of the old customs. In fact, a school I have heard of in Sunderland has asked their pupils' mothers not to bring in food. Maybe the old are tired of food.

"No!" Mothers have been asked to bring in money. Money for the old - a nice sentiment.

"No!" Money to send to South Africa for the poor. So I ask: "What has this to do with our traditional harvest festival? Does the public not give enough for the NSPCC, and poor of the world?

Now teachers are shaming our children and parents. Where will it all end? Is our tradition of no consequence now? - JA Stott, Hunwick, Co Durham.

WHALING

ICELAND'S breach of the international moratorium on whaling is a crime, and one she should be made to pay for by being subjected to the harshest sanctions and other penalties of which the international community is capable.

Whales are beautiful creatures, possibly the most wonderful and mysterious inhabitants of our planet, just how wonderful we are only now beginning to realise.

We know they are at least as intelligent as us, that they are musically gifted and intensely caring and sensitive.

The slaughter of such creatures, involving the brutal methods used by whaling fleets, is a hideous blot on our record as a species, in its own way as evil as the Holocaust, the slave trade, etc.

If Iceland now gets away with it, other such barbarities will inevitably follow and there is every chance other countries noted in the past for such despicable behaviour, such as Norway, Japan and Russia, will follow suit.

I urge the British Government and those of all other civilised nations to bring the fullest pressure of international law to bear on Iceland. - Tony Kelly, Crook, Co Durham.