Madonna in Malawi to inspect schools project

BLANTYRE, Malawi - American pop queen Madonna is in Malawi to inspect the schools she has built in the impoverished African country, the native home of her adopted two children, her manager said on 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 Nielson.

"Those schools which are now open and operating are serving 3,800 students," he told AFP.

The schools were built over the past nine months.

Education minister Eunice Kazembe had 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 Nielson 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 3,800 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 "a large amount of money went missing".

The academy was replaced by plans to build schools, in order to reach more children.

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 children orphaned by AIDS.

On Sunday she visited one of the orphanages she sponsors in the capital Lilongwe.

Madonna arrived on Sunday with David Banda and Mercy James, the two children she adopted from the small landlocked African country sandwiched between Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.

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