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Madonna scraps Malawi girl’s school plan

Madonna has dropped plans to set up a girl’s boarding school in Malawi after blowing £2.4 million on the project.

Allegations of mismanagement and lavish spending engulf the queen of pop and her co-founders, the charity Raising Malawi’s, decision to abandon plans to finish building the £9.4 million school.

The charity's director, Philippe van den Bossche, Madonna's former personal trainer’s boyfriend, left in October after criticism of his management style and cost overruns.

High profile celebrities such as actors Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow were among those who lent their backing to the project two years ago, as well as Kabbalah Centre International, the Jewish mystical organisation Madonna belongs to.

"A thoughtful decision has been made to discontinue plans for the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, as it was originally conceived," Michael Berg, co-founder of Raising Malawi, told the New York Times.

The singer, who has adopted a boy and a girl from the southern African country, lent $11m (£6.9m) to the charity and now sits on the board with her manager. She said she was still committed to keeping Raising Malawi going. The charity is currently being run by a caretaker board she and her manager are on.

"There's a real education crisis in Malawi. Sixty-seven per cent of girls don't go to secondary school, and this is simply unacceptable," she said.

The school was being set up to teach 500 girls and prepare them as female leaders of the future. When the scheme collapsed two months ago, the south east African country’s government said the move had angered villagers who had sacrificed their homes to make way for the site near the capital, Lilongwe.

Now eight school staff and Kabbalah teachers in Malawi who were lined up to work on the project are suing Madonna, saying scrapping the plan has cost them their jobs, it emerged yesterday. Their lawyer said they are taking the US singer to court for unfair dismissal and non-payment of benefits.

"Their employment was terminated by the trustees of Raising Malawi Academy for Girls ostensibly following the change of plan not to build the school as planned," he told Reuters news agency. "My clients are also being forced to sign a discriminatory termination agreement before they are paid their benefits."

Dr Anjimile Oponyo, who had been set to head the school, is among those suing. The Global Philanthropy Group, who Madonna brought in to rescue the charity, reportedly said Dr Oponyo’s “weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos."

Madonna is considering filing a counter case.

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