Madonna has been actively working to combat Malawi's troubling education issues since 2006, but this week her efforts were dealt a swift blow when the country's education authorities denied the validity of one of her charitable organization's biggest accomplishments. But the 54-year-old singer is not backing down on her previous statements.
Eunice Kazembe, the Malawi education minister, said that Madonna's organization Raising Malawi, which aims to help the country's 1 million orphans, did not actually construct the 10 schools the group claimed in December to have opened, according to The Independent.
“The schools Raising Malawi claims to have constructed were already in existence,” Kazembe said Thursday. “Raising Malawi only built 10 classroom blocks and not schools. People should know the difference between the two.”
But officials from Raising Malawi told The Huffington Post exclusively that Kazembe's statements are unmerited, saying they are "shocked" by Kazembe's comments.
A source close to the situation, who asked to remain anonymous while still working with the Malawi government, said he believes that Kazembe's statements came as a result of the recent appointment of Malawi President Joyce Banda's sister, Anjimile Oponyo. She now serves as the principal secretary for the Ministry of Education but previously worked with Madonna as CEO and head of the state-of-the-art girls' school the singer was commissioning in Malwai. The school was allegedly never built because of what a report from the affiliated Global Philanthropy Group -- a company that works with organizations to "implement highly-leveraged philanthropic strategies" -- said were Oponyo's "weak management skills." She was thusly fired from the project. Oponyo's dismissal is what the source believes may have played a role in Kazembe's recent statements about Madonna inflating the success of her latest projects.
BuildOn, a nonprofit group that constructs school in developing countries and partnered with Madonna in her efforts, released an official statement on Thursday that refutes Kazembe's claims. The organization said the locations for each of the 10 two-classroom schools that were built were "chosen in partnership with the District Education Manager’s Office in the Kasungu District" of Malawi.
"Each school was constructed in partnership with the communities who will benefit from the structures," the statement reads. "BuildOn and Raising Malawi provided the construction materials, transportation, skilled labor, project management, and construction plans. ... The District of Education Manager’s Office in Kasungu has provided 44 educators for the schools who are now teaching the Ministry’s approved curriculum."
BuildOn had already released a report detailing completion dates, enrollment counts and other information about each of its and Raising Malawi's joint schools.
Raising Malawi had announced in December that its 10 new schools would educate more than 4,800 students in rural villages.
“I am overjoyed that my commitment along with buildOn’s to help educate the children of Malawi has come to fruition,” Madonna 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.”
In March 2012, Reuters reported that the singer had not informed the Malawi government of her plans, leading them to accuse her of being more concerned with her "propping up her global image" than bettering the impoverished African nation. Ministry of Education spokeswoman Lindiwe Chide told Reuters at the time that the government was "fed up" with Madonna.
That March hiccup came not long after government officials in Malawi, where Madonna has adopted two children, publicly scolded the singer for not keeping them abreast of her plans. The singer announced her intent to build the girls' school right outside the country's capital city in 2009, but the plans were scrapped a year later as a result of alleged mismanagement and cost overruns, according to Reuters. Madonna reportedly did not inform the Malawi government of the plan's demise. The New York Times reported that $3.8 million had been spent on the school.
Madonna co-founded Raising Malawi in 2006 with Kabbalah Centre International co-director Michael Berg. She reportedly donated $11 million of her own money to the organization, whose celebrity supporters include Rihanna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise and Gwen Stefani.