Editor's Note: In an American Morning original series, “Big Stars, Big Giving,” Alina Cho looks at celebrity philanthropy and how these big stars can make a big impact. Through one-on-one interviews with Elton John, Ben Stiller, Madonna, Martha Stewart and Richard Branson, she shares what causes have become their passion, and how you can get involved. Originally posted December 23, 2009.
By Alina Cho, CNN
Madonna has spent most of her life being provocative about almost everything; above all, her personal life.
These days nothing is more personal than her two children, adopted from Malawi. It’s a small African nation where half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, and where more than a half million children are orphaned by AIDS.
“I would love to take them all home, yes, if I could,” Madonna tells me.
Because she can't, and because she's Madonna, she made a documentary, called I Am, Because We Are, about Malawi.
“People always ask me why I chose Malawi, and I tell them, ‘I didn't. It chose me.'"
She also founded the charity Raising Malawi, to help feed, educate and provide medical care to some of Malawi's orphans – the ones she can't bring home.
“We found and met a lot of people who were sick and dying of HIV, with no medical help. And it just felt like a death camp, and it was astonishing. And so, on the other hand, though, everybody that I met was all so incredibly brave. So, it's a very confusing paradox.
“On the one hand, I went there and I thought, ‘I have to, I have to help, I have to save these people.’ And then I thought, ‘I think it's the other way around. I think they might be saving me because, they help you to get a sense of appreciation for life, for what you have."
Her latest project is breaking ground on a $15 million boarding school, the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, slated to open in 2012.
"I never intended to go to Malawi and just sort of, you know, dump a bunch of aid on people and flee the country. It's always been about partnership."
And she's putting her money where her mouth is. Every dollar that is donated to RaisingMalawi.org, Madonna will match.
“My biggest asset as a human being, I would say, my resiliency and my survival skills. I mean, I'm like a cockroach. (laughs) You can't get rid of me.”
Her tenacity was on display back in 2006 when many people, both in Malawi and around the world, accused the superstar of using her celebrity and her money to buy an adoption.
She won, and David, now 4, calls Madonna "Mom."
“It seems that a lot of the things I do end up being controversial even when I don't mean them to be. … I don't know if it hurts my feelings. I think sometimes, I'm pretty prepared often for some of the things I say and do, I go, ‘I know this is going to freak some people out.’ But then other things I do, like adopting a child who is about to die, I don't think I'm going to get a hard time for it, and I do.”
Yet Madonna says she'll take the criticism, if it means one more child in Malawi gets to go to school, survive, and thrive.
“Sometimes, it just, it stops you dead in your tracks and you think, ‘Oh, my god. I can't do this,’ but then I see the success rate. I talk to the people in Malawi whose lives have been changed and that just helps me and keeps me going.”
and how you can get involved, visit Impact Your World.