It seemed like a wonderful plan. Madonna would build a $15 million academy for 400 impoverished girls in Malawi. Her charity, Raising Malawi, collected $18 million and the project had the support of elite Hollywood circles and the Jewish mysticism group Kabbalah Centre International. Unfortunately, it ended up doing more harm than good, reports The New York Times. According to a damning audit, the manager's of the school project, which was abandoned in January, wasted $3.8 million on lavish purchases such as cars, chauffuers, golf course memberships and free housing.
“The project has not broken ground, there was no title to the land and there was, over all, a startling lack of accountability on the part of the management team in Malawi and the management team in the United States,” said Trevor Neilson, a philanthropist recruited by Madonna to examine problems at the charity. “We have yet to determine exactly what happened to all of that $3.8 million. We have not accounted for all the funds that were used.”
Making matters worse, The Guardian notes that the 117-acre construction site had forced Malawian villagers from their ancestral land for what they thought would be a thriving school. Upon learning that the project had been scrapped in January, village elders were furious and the Malawian government summoned Madonna to explain herself.
At the time, Madonna said her plans changed because "I want to reach thousands, not hundreds of girls" reffering to a new plan to build high schools across the country. But, according to the Times, that's not what her adviser, Trevor Neilson, is recommending she do. "He told her that building an expensive school in Malawi was an ineffective form of philanthropy, and suggested instead using resources to finance education programs though existing and proven nongovernmental organizations," writes the Times. In response to the audit, Madonna issued the following statement:
There's a real education crisis in Malawi. Sixty-seven percent of girls don't go to secondary school, and this is simply unacceptable. Our team is going to work hard to address this in every way we can...While I'm proud of these accomplishments, I'm frustrated that our education work has not moved forward in a faster way.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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