American Morning

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July 5th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Madonna's new girls' school

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, 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.”

To learn more about the organizations these stars have created to make a difference,

and how you can get involved, visit Impact Your World.

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Michelle

    I agree people is people. It does not matter where she gives her help> In America we have well fare , food stamps, social security etc... the kids does not have anything excepth faith. God only gives to distributors. keep up the good wrk Miss Madonna. They talk bad about Jesus so therefore....and to you haters I am comparing her to Jesus.

    July 6, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Flex

    Kudos to Madonna. She does what she wants, helps others, and bigot AmeriKans hate her for it.

    She is a glacier breaking liberator!

    July 6, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  3. Nancy

    Yes, there are people in need here in the U.S. as well, and they deserve help. But the country is irrelevant–people are people, and when someone wants to do what she or he can to help alleviate suffering it's a wonderful thing no matter where they choose to do it. If we all did what we could–without worrying about who we think "should" get helped first, and thinking in terms of geographical and political boundaries–things would be so much better all around.

    In other words, to quote Nike's slogan–"Just do it." Precious time and lives are wasted when we quibble about the details.

    July 6, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  4. Danielle

    I admire Madonna and always believe that she is one of the most intelligent business woman of today...she knows what's right and knows how to do it...Lourdes is a beautiful young girl who seems to inherited her mother good looks and intelligence for business. !

    July 6, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  5. Kathleen Jackson

    On Madonna & raising Malawi...First of all I must say Ive been a Madonna fan most of my life, I love everything about her, you must be able to understand her art to understand her as a person! Though what I think she is doing in Malawi is great, what I dont understand is why is it all these enertainers who have money, always choose to help the poor, sick, hungry, in other countries except their own! We have plenty of people/children who are poor, sick, dying,hungry, homeless, ect.. in America & yet noone seems to want to help the American people & I just dont understand it! I dont think there is anything wrong with helping other countries, but why is it the american people are always forgotten? I feel help your own in need first, then help other countries! After all Madonna its the American people who are buying your concert tickets, CD's, DVD's, Movies, and the list goes on...Though its well deserved, its the Americans who have made you rich by buying all of the above! I think Madonna is great, but please America lets start helping our country where there are many in need! Thank you!

    July 6, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  6. Rick

    An informative story, since I was unaware that the "AIDS orphan" problem in Africa was limited to girls. At least that is how the slant of Ms. Cho's story makes it seem. After all, Madonna is building a "school for girls," therefore, the only victims of being orphaned by AIDS must be a condition peculiar to girls!

    Now, make no mistake, Madonna can donate her money anyway she pleases and countries like Malawi can use all the help and assistance they can get.

    So, my complaint is not with Madonna, but with Alina Cho and her editors at CNN. Other than the David, the young boy adopted by Madonna, boys were completely written out of the story.

    Although they used the unbiased gender neutral term "children" in the story the focus was clearly a "school for girls,": as sugggested by the teaser. I would expect any first year journalism student to ask the obvious questions of, "Why a school for girls, do not the boys need help too? What are you or anyone else doing to help the orphan boys?"

    Yet, those questions went unasked. The same thing happened regarding Oprah's South African "girls school." Boys were left out of the equation.

    A careful, but cursory examination of CNN's reporting on many similar issues reveals a clear bias in favor of stories championing girls and those who do things to advance girls and women's issues, leaving the boys out in the cold. Then CNN and its "reporters" lament how boys are being left behind in college, men are suffering higher job losses in the current recession, and etc.

    Two thumbs down to Alina Cho and CNN for not closing this loop in the story. No matter how uncomfortable or how much like "looking a gift horse in the mouth" it may have seemed the questions regarding boys needed to be asked. Yet, CNN and Ms. Cho apparently choose to pander to the current "pushing of the feminine agenda." Maybe it's time for them to rename the network, "Entertainment Tonight!"

    July 5, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  7. YankeeNovember

    She's a brave woman, we all should have such people in our lives.
    Bests to you, Madonna, and the people you try to help.

    July 5, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  8. Sandra

    Madonna inspire people to altruism. We need more people like her.

    March 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  9. Lenny

    Frankly, I'd be more impressed if she Helped Detroit or Baltimore, or even visited her OWN garndmother in a Mich Nursi ng Home.
    She's probably hoping to be put on a future Malawian stamp.

    January 13, 2010 at 5:10 am |
  10. Ron (Dr. Ronald Helms)

    Hats off to Modonna for supporting education and helping starving folks in Malawi. It is a shame that citizens and polititians talk a big story about helping improve education in the USA. Talk, Talk, Talk! The failing condition of Education in the USA begins in the grades 1st – 5th. No it is NOT the teachers fault. A teacher in those grades face an impossible task with 15-25 children in a classroom. As the young children progress up from 1st grade to 2nd grade a few of those children will begin the process of "falling through the crack." A teacher can not provide the small group assistance necessary for ALL children to stay on track. There is a solution that does not require big sums of money. Volunteers! Visit "" where RAMP stands for Retired, Active, Mobile, Partners.

    January 12, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  11. marla

    Thank you Madonna for your kindness to the Malawi women. May God continue to bless you and your family.

    January 12, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  12. Roman, Butler, Pa

    Great Story. Madonna has learned from the hearts of those who suffer that giving back is the Way of Christ.

    It's like throwing a rock into a pond and the ripple effect reaches to every shore. So too, is the Words of Christ like a rock being thrown into a pond and that ripple effect will reach out to every shore to bring a New Beginning.

    January 12, 2010 at 8:10 am |
  13. Nicholas Weil

    It's so patronizing that anchors and reporters have to introduce most countries in Africa as "the African country of Malawi" or, even worse, "the small African country of Malawi." During the climate change conference, we didn't hear "the small European country of Denmark," even though many Americans would be unable to point it out on a map. Africa's too vast and disparate to be a meaningful geographic reference, so instead of being helpful, the insistent mention of the continent sounds condescending, even a little bigoted.

    January 12, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  14. Carlos Guillen-Oliva

    On behalf of all of us whose contribution represents a grain of sand towards this tremendous task that must be done (Raising Malawi), we deeply want to express our gratitude to Madonna. God bless you and your lovely four children as well as those that you can't have at home, but I'm sure they're also appreciative for the charity they receive from you.



    January 3, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  15. Boris Shor

    Thank you for showing all of us such a great example of what means to be true leaders in this World. Bravo Madonna!
    Thank you Madonna! Happy New Year to all who are Raising this World.

    December 31, 2009 at 9:55 pm |
  16. Kris Worcester,MA.

    Madonna your passion in music and in your charity is so important to so many. Thanks for you vision, and your fame!! <3

    December 24, 2009 at 4:50 pm |
  17. Robert Lau

    Just want to say THANK YOU to American Morning and Merry Christmas to all. I watch you daily and enjoy your programing and you anchors you are the best. A special greeting to Christine from a fellow Iowa transplant. From Cedar Falls to Escondido Ca. LOL Bob

    December 24, 2009 at 8:53 am |
  18. Marilyn

    I too have been to Malawi. In 2009 a friend and I raised money to put in a well in a remote area and fixed two more. We saw first hand what Madonna is talking about. All I can say is these people need all the help they can get. Keep up the good work, Madonna.

    December 23, 2009 at 4:33 pm |
  19. darlingsapphire

    I hope this girls' school that Modanna is constructing teaches the
    girls not to make too many children because Africa already is
    loaded with human population, starvation, sicknesses, etc., and then
    God's beautiful, beloved animals will suffer at the greed and
    selfish desires of the human race. Balance is the success for life
    on this planet. I would like to see that they are taught to think with
    common sense, compassion, empathy, reasoning and wisdom
    thruout their life, then all the beautiful wildlife that Africa has can
    survive – and definitely no cannibalism (eating our closest
    relatives), and eating very little meat, as vegetables and fruits, etc. is
    the way to a healthier body and mind. God Bless.

    December 23, 2009 at 11:43 am |