Madonna's charity head blasts land dispute reports

The director of Madonna's Raising Malawi foundation is denying that there is a land dispute over the charity's planned $15 million girls academy, calling reports that some villagers feel the project is displacing them "erroneous."
The Associated Press has reported that the village headman took the villagers' complaints to the local government, and that local officials have visited the area several times.
However, Phillip Van den Bosche, who runs the foundation, said late Saturday that media reports of friction were "not factual."
He also said that the head of the village "made a very long speech about how grateful he was for this project" at a ceremony for the school.
Raising Malawi is building the school for girls on approximately a 117-acre plot of government land near the capital, Lilongwe. The land had been used by villagers for farming when it was not utilized by the government, but Malawi reclaimed the land when the educational project emerged.
It worked out a deal in which about 200 villagers would be paid 16 million kwacha (about $115,000) in total by Raising Malawi to compensate them for their houses — mostly mud-and-thatch structures — and improvements such as gardens and trees.
Van Den Bosche said the deal — which was worked out by the government but paid for by Raising Malawi — was more than generous.
"If you visited the land prior to this allocation, you would have found that there were at the most one or two small huts" on the land, he said. "The people who were on the land now have an equivalent plot of agricultural land where they can continue their farming ... The community will be enhanced by this."
On Sunday, Van Den Bosche denied that representatives from Raising Malawi had met recently with any villagers about the land issue and believes that others, such as the media and perhaps lawyers, have tried to inflame the issue.
"It was a done deal but of course whenever Madonna's name is involved, opportunism is involved," he said.
"The thought that Madonna would be going on this land to take something away or to hurt people or to bulldoze people out of their homes is ridiculous," he added. "The school is built to build cultural pride, not to destroy it."
But while Raising Malawi was co-founded by Madonna, Van Den Bosche said the idea that it was Madonna's school was not accurate.
"Madonna is a donor to this project she's just one of many donors to it, and she has taken the creation of the girls academy on as a pet project of hers, it's something she feels very connected to," he said. "(But) it's not really her school, it's a collaboration."

AP via Yahoo! News


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