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Madonna's Malawi schools claims are challenged

By Tim Walker in Los Angeles

Madonna's charitable endeavours were dealt another blow yesterday when Malawi's Education Minister flatly denied the pop star's claims that her charity had built 10 new schools in the country.

In December, Raising Malawi announced that its efforts to support vulnerable children in the East African nation had led to the construction of 10 primary schools to serve more than 4,800 pupils in rural villages. The schools, it said, were the result of a partnership between Madonna, her charity, and a non-profit school-building organisation, buildOn.

"I am overjoyed that my commitment along with buildOn's to help educate the children of Malawi has come to fruition," the 54-year-old singer said in a statement at the time. "The fact that more than 4,800 children in Malawi will get to go to school next year is a tremendous step forward for their individual growth and the growth of Malawi."

But yesterday, the Education Minister, Eunice Kazembe, implied that Madonna did not deserve quite so much credit. "The schools Raising Malawi claims to have constructed were already in existence," she said.

"Raising Malawi only built 10 classroom blocks and not schools," the minister went on. "People should know the difference between the two." The Malawi government, she said, was keen to "clarify any misconceptions that may arise".

The singer has had her run-ins with the country's authorities before, following difficulties with Raising Malawi's previous educational endeavours. In 2009, to great fanfare, she laid the foundation stone for a $15m elite academy for girls in Chinkota village, not far from the national capital, Lilongwe. Madonna reportedly invested $11m of her own money in the project, which was also backed by the singer's Kabbalah associates.

A year later, however, the school's construction was cancelled and its local staff sacked, after a report accused them of "extreme mismanagement". The report claimed funds had been expropriated and spent on luxury cars and golf club membership. The 117-acre Chinkota site, for which many villagers had been forced to give up their homes, is now a "heroes' acre" and national monument.

Following the furore, Madonna announced she would build 10 schools instead, but the Department of Education initially rejected the suggestion, saying it was "fed up" with her interference.

The country is the native home of two of the singer's children, David and Mercy, both controversially adopted from Malawian families.

Joyce Banda, Malawi's President, criticised Madonna last year for the adoptions and for "changing her mind" over the academy plans. "I have a problem with a lot of things around the adoption of the children and the changing of the mind and then coming back to build community schools," Ms Banda said.

Raising Malawi was founded in 2006 with a mission to provide educational support and medical care to the landlocked nation's 1.4 million vulnerable children, around one million of whom have been orphaned by Aids. The charity's celebrity supporters include Jennifer Lopez, Tom Cruise and Donald Trump.

Belfast Telegraph


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