The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials said a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing that Rais­ing Malawi, founded in 2006, signed with the Malawi gov­ern­ment for the acad­emy project has a clause that binds ei­ther party to no­tify and get the other’s agree­ment should it want to al­ter any as­pect of the project.

John Bisika, the top bu­reau­crat in the ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment, said the Malawi gov­ern­ment was dis­ap­pointed.

“We need to know what’s hap­pen­ing. She can’t just say: ‘I’m build­ing schools here.’ We need to be con­sulted in or­der to work out where schools are needed based on our data,” he said. “Let’s do it prop­erly.”

But Trevor Neilson, who is help­ing di­rect Madonna’s school project in Malawi as a part­ner of the Global Phi­lan­thropy Group, said al­le­ga­tions the gov­ern­ment was be­ing left out of Madonna’s plan­ning are “ab­so­lutely not true.”

“Our part­ner­ship with buil­don re­ceived the ex­plicit ap­proval from the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry. We had . . . six gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who at­tended the con­tract sign­ing along with about 50 or so mem­bers of the com­mu­nity,” he said.

Mr. Neilson gave the As­so­ci­ated Press a copy of a Jan. 31 let­ter sent to Mr. Chaponda. Days ear­lier, Madonna had re­leased a public state­ment about her new plans.

Mr. Neilson called him­self Madonna’s ad­viser in his let­ter to Mr. Chaponda and re­ferred to Rais­ing Malawi hav­ing “changed course” on the acad­emy. Mr. Neilson stressed that Madonna re­mained com­mit­ted to help­ing chil­dren in the coun­try, tak­ing a new “com­mu­nity-based ap­proach” by work­ing with buil­don.

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

Head­man Bin­son Chinkhota had a tough time con­vinc­ing 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 sur­vive mainly on sub­sis­tence agri­cul­ture and day la­bor in the city of Li­longwe, about 15 miles 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.

Mr. 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,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. Neilson said that since 2007, Rais­ing Malawi has in­vested more than $7 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion for Con­sol Homes, in pro­grams to sup­port or­phans and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren in Malawi.

An­jim­ile Ntila-oponyo, a Har­vard­trained teacher Madonna poached from the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Project to head her Malawi project, is locked in a le­gal bat­tle over un­paid wages. Ms. Ntila-oponyo is gagged by a con­fi­den­tial­ity clause she signed with the singer and re­fused to dis­cuss the is­sue with the AP.

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 U.S. aid agency that re­wards good gov­er­nance sus­pended $350 mil­lion worth of as­sis­tance to Malawi.

Madonna said her new ap­proach in Malawi will serve twice as many chil­dren as an orig­i­nal plan that had led some to draw par­al­lels to the Oprah Win­frey Lead­er­ship Acad­emy for Girls, which the talk show host and en­tre­pre­neur started in neigh­bor­ing South Africa in 2007. Miss Win­frey, who spent $40 mil­lion on her cam­pus, re­cently ac­knowl­edged hers “is not a sus­tain­able model for most peo­ple in most coun­tries.”

“Cur­rently half of all Malawi’s chil­dren don’t fin­ish the pri­mary school cy­cle,” Mr. Neilson said. “Madonna would like to help those chil­dren go to school.”

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