KASUNGU, Malawi (AFP) – American pop queen Madonna on Tuesday visited villages in Malawi where her charity has built several schools, but where many other pupils still learn under trees.
Accompanied by adopted children David Banda and Mercy James as well as her two biological children, a smiling Madonna could be seen chatting with the mostly barefoot pupils.
Madonna has built 10 schools in the impoverished African country, the native home of her two adopted children, her manager said earlier Tuesday.
“We are coming to visit the 10 schools that she recently finished building with an organisation called BuildOn,” said Madonna’s philanthropy manager Trevor Neilson.
The schools, built over the past nine months, were “open and operating” and serving 4,800 students, he told AFP.
Education Minister Eunice Kazembe last year challenged a claim by her charity Raising Malawi that it built 10 schools, saying they were rather classroom blocks, and not schools.
But Neilson said the structures were schools complying with national standards.
“There’s no controversy. The schools are built to the exact national standards of Malawi, like every other Malawian school,” he said.
“The bottom line is that (4,800) children are going to school now who were not going to school before.”
Initially she wanted to build a large $15 million girls academy, but the plan was abandoned after the project became mired in allegations of mismanagement.
The academy idea was replaced by plans to build schools in order to reach more children.
On Tuesday traditional leaders led villagers in Kasungu district, some 145 kilometres (90 miles) north of the capital Lilongwe, to thank Madonna for the school blocks, describing it as a “memorable gift” to pupils.
Villagers and pupils feted her with songs and traditional dances.
Malawi, one of Africa’s poorest countries, lacks basic education facilities. The introduction of free primary school in 1994 put additional pressure on the system as enrolments tripled.
Madonna, said to be the single largest international philanthropic donor to Malawi, also supports childcare in the country, which is home to nearly a million AIDS orphans.
On Sunday she visited one of the orphanages she sponsors in Lilongwe.
Madonna arrived Sunday in the small landlocked African country sandwiched between Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.