Madonna breaks Malawi promise

23 February 2011 at 01:37 | 853 views

By Roland Bankole Marke, Deputy Editor, Florida, USA.

Madonna, world famed 52 year-old pop superstar, has broken her promise to fund a Girls Academy in Malawi to the tune of $15 million. This bombshell came after local villagers had been forced by the Malawian government to give up their ancestral land to provide enough space for the construction of an ultra modern Academy that would provide the facilities to educate 500 girls: Projected to become young women leaders in the poverty stricken African nation of Malawi, with a population of about 12 million. But half of them earn less than a dollar a day.

It was in the village of Chinkhota in southern Malawi that Madonna broke ground for the construction of a prestigious academy for underprivileged girls. Named as a "gift" to the African country from which she has adopted two children. The $15 million institution was to accommodate the girls and groom them to be "future women leaders." Usually under the heat of the blazing sun, boys herd goats in search of green grass. In a nearby plot a farmer would be seen weeding his maize crop. The inspiring ceremony like fanfare that had surrounded Madonna’s visit in 2009 now seems very distant, if not a nightmare.

Now, village elders are accusing Madonna of letting them down, while the government has been forced to admit that it doesn’t know what her plans are, after she announced that she has abandoned her plans for the construction of the Girls academy. Madonna stated that she would instead focus on building secondary schools across the country, rather than planting just one school. But officials in Malawi have been left scratching their heads, wondering what this will entail. "I want to reach thousands, not hundreds of girls," she said in a statement recently. "I want to do more and I want to do it better." The news has shocked villagers who were forced to surrender their ancestral land to make room for the school. The Malawian government said it had not been consulted and will definitely summon the 52-year-old pop star to update them on the issue.

"We’d like to know why she has changed," said Peter Mutharika, the education minister. "Yes, we do appreciate that it is her project; she devised it and she knows best how to implement it. But still, as government, we’d be interested to know why there is this change." Mutharika, tipped to be the next president when his brother, Bingu Wa Mutharika, ends his final term in 2014, added: "I honestly don’t know the number of schools she is going to construct, where she will build and for how long. So until we talk to her, we can’t comment much." He said the government will also review the memorandum of understanding it signed with Madonna to "see what it says before we can embrace her new approach".

About 200 people were removed from Chinkhota village, on the outskirts of the capital, Lilongwe to make way for Raising Malawi Girls Academy. Most of the villagers were born here and believe that the land is their ancestral property. They threatened to block the project, until Madonna compensated them about $500,000. The government who often defended Madonna’s charitable work, also helped to evict the villagers, claiming that the land was state property reserved for development projects. The site is still empty without a building. Construction of the Academy was delayed because of a dispute between the charity and villagers who claimed that they were inadequately compensated for their land. The project was scheduled to be completed in December this year. However, the earth-moving machines that had been landscaping the perimeter have all disappeared. The poor villagers feel betrayed, accusing Madonna of breaking her promise. Maxwell Matewere, Malawi’s leading children’s rights activist, said Madonna should not "dump" the project.

Matewere, director of Eye of the Child, led two unsuccessful attempts to stop Madonna in adopting two children, David, five, and four-year-old Mercy from Malawi after their mothers died. He said the pop star was trying to "run away from long-term obligations" and she should go ahead with the academy because "you educate a few to educate others. She must borrow a leaf from people like Oprah Winfrey, who has done it in South Africa."

Madonna is funding several charities in Malawi, including homes for children with Aids. She has built a multi-purpose community centre, some 30 miles from Lilongwe which looks after more than 8,000 orphans. "In a country where only 33% of Malawian girls attend secondary school, I realize that the plans we had in place for the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls simply would not serve enough children. My original vision is now on a much bigger scale." She said she was in the process of implementing several changes and additions to the management of Raising Malawi in the US and Malawi.

Madonna said she had teamed up with Trevor Neilson and his team at Global Philanthropy Group to "shift the strategies so that we can accomplish our goals with more efficiency as we continue to consult our government partners in Malawi." She said Raising Malawi was focused on an approach which includes building schools within communities across the country. A pilot school is on the cards that will "address the barriers keeping girls from secondary education." The world would be a lot happier if others with a big, passionate heart, and fortune could step up to the plate and lend a helping hand. For educating boys you educate individuals, and educating girls you educate a nation. It is not the example of one’s power that matters but the power of one’s example. There’s an explosive hunger in Africa to educate the girl child who is often the victim of rape, forced marriage, international sex slavery, and cultural and societal discrimination. Educating girls would make a big difference and help to thaw the aged cultural stereotypes held my most African nations about educating the girl child.

Roland Bankole Marke 2011

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