Sunday 18 March 2018

How Madonna is accused of duplicity and cutting cash for charities in the struggling country where she adopted her children

MADONNA has been accused of broken promises after scaling back her charity efforts in Malawi.

Madonna adopted two children -- David and Mercy, both now six -- from Malawi in 2006 and 2009.

Children's welfare groups had expressed concern about the adoptions, saying rules meant to protect children were bent because of Madonna's celebrity.

It was also perhaps out of gratitude for what she had done -- and was expected to do -- for Malawi.

Shortly after adopting Mercy in 2009, Madonna broke ground for a $15m (e11.2m) academy for girls in Malawi.

Photos of the singer turning the soil on the school were featured around the world.

However, earlier this year, her Raising Malawi foundation announced that instead of building the academy, it is providing $300,000 (e224,000) to develop 10 schools.

Now Malawi's education minister is complaining his government has been left out in Madonna's plans to drastically scale back charity efforts.

Officials in the impoverished southern African country insist the changes have taken them by surprise.

Education Minister George Chaponda claimed: "We haven't been officially approached."

But Trevor Neilson, who is helping direct Madonna's Malawi projects, says such allegations that celebrity promises have turned to disappointment, are "absolutely not true".

Neilson provided a copy of a January 31 letter sent to Chaponda. Days earlier, Madonna had released a public statement about her new plans.

Neilson called himself Madonna's adviser in the letter and referred to Raising Malawi having "changed course" on the academy.

Neilson stressed Madonna remained committed to helping children in the country, taking a new "community based approach".

He added: "Raising Malawi would like to graciously return the land granted to us by the government for the original Raising Malawi Academy for Girls project."

Madonna says her new approach in Malawi will serve twice as many children as an original plan that had led some to draw parallels to the $40m (e29.9m) Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls the talk show host started in neighbouring South Africa in 2007.

"Currently half of all Malawi's children don't finish the primary school cycle," said Neilson, Madonna's adviser. "Madonna would like to help those children go to school."

However, Binson Chinkhota had a tough time convincing his villagers of the importance of Madonna's academy project. Now, he feels let down.

"My people reluctantly gave up their land because I convinced them the project was beneficial not only because our girls would get world-class education but also because some of the villagers would get piecework," said the chief, whose subjects mainly survive on subsistence agriculture and day labour in the city of Lilongwe, some 25km away. "Now the land is just lying idle."

A leading child care group also expressed disappointment in Madonna and said its funding by Raising Malawi stopped suddenly and without explanation.

"We are really struggling -- they were our main funders. In fact, we increased the children we feed daily because of them," said Lucy Chapomba, administrator at Consol Homes, a group that runs projects for orphans and vulnerable children in central Malawi.

Neilson said Raising Malawi was funding Consol Homes through the middle of this year, but that Consol Homes was not fulfilling its financial reporting obligations and there were "major concerns" about the performance of its management team.

"So, as of now, we're not going to be continuing that funding unless they can show us that the money will be well used," Neilson said.

"Raising Malawi does not just hand out money to anyone and everyone that wants it. We have a clear grant-making process and performance metrics associated with these grants. So people in Malawi might not like that we measure their performance but that is the way that Raising Malawi is now run."


Neilson said that since 2007, Raising Malawi has invested over $7m (e5.25m), including $1m (e750,000) for Consol Homes, in programmes to support orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi.

Anjimile Ntila-Oponyo, a Harvard-trained teacher Madonna poached from the United Nations Development Project to head her Malawi project, is locked in a legal battle over unpaid wages.

Ntila-Oponyo is gagged by a confidentiality clause she signed with the singer, and refused to discuss the issue.

Malawi's relations with foreign donors have been strained by accusations President Bingu wa Mutharika is authoritarian and responsible for human rights abuses. Earlier this month, a US aid agency that rewards good governance suspended $350m (e262m) of assistance to Malawi.


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