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Madonna visits AIDS orphans in Malawi



Associated Press

Madonna visited an orphanage in this impoverished African country Thursday, handing out copies of her book "The English Roses" to a crowd of AIDS orphans as her publicist dismissed claims that she was going to adopt a child herself.

The pop star was greeted by about 50 children as she arrived in a four-vehicle convoy. Bodyguards prevented journalists from getting access to the premises or approaching her.

Madonna's publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said the pop star was on a private visit working on projects for children and dismissed statements from Malawian government officials that she and her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, would adopt a boy.

"I have no information or confirmation regarding Madonna adopting an individual child. She's kind of adopting an entire country of children," Rosenberg said in an e-mail to The Associated Press in Los Angeles.

"She is on a private visit to Malawi and is involved in the building of an orphanage/child care center as well as other initiatives to help the children of that country who have lost parents to AIDS."

Andrina Mchiela, a senior official with Malawi's Ministry for Gender and Child Welfare, said the government was awaiting news of the singer's plans.

The ministry said Wednesday that it expected Madonna to file adoption papers Thursday.

"We haven't got anything from Madonna's people yet," Mchiela said. "As far as we are concerned her plans (to adopt a child) remain unchanged."

The visit has generated huge excitement in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries, which usually only makes headlines because of its grim cycle of drought, hunger and disease. More than 14 percent of Malawi's 12 million people have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and an estimated 1 million children have been orphaned.

Madonna was greeted Thursday at the Kondanani children's village near Malawi's commercial capital by a crowd of about 28 singing orphans, who each received a translated copy of Madonna's children's book.

Orphanage officials said Ritchie accompanied the singer and filmed the children.

"She and her husband are very lovely," said orphanage director Anne Chikhwaza. "She has a kind heart; she really wants to help."

She said Madonna didn't make any financial pledges "but appreciates the work we are doing here."

The orphanage is home to 128 children, many of whom have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS in a pattern repeated throughout the country.

Madonna's project, called Raising Malawi, aims to set up an orphan care center to provide food, education and shelter for up to 4,000 children. It will have projects based on Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism that has gained popularity in recent years and which counts the 48-year-old singer among its devotees.

Kabbalah is virtually unheard of in Malawi, a predominantly Roman Catholic country where superstitions and belief in witchcraft run high.

Philippe van den Bossche, project coordinator for Raising Malawi, said he welcomed Madonna's visit to the southern African nation.

"Any organization would be happy to know that they are being supported by such a beacon of hope. We are very grateful for the work she is doing in the country and for the project," he said. "She is an extraordinary inspiration and will hopefully inspire people to put children first."

Van Den Bossche said the orphan care center would be completed next March, a year after work on it began.

Madonna is due to meet government officials in the capital, Lilongwe, on Friday and visit more orphanages.

In a letter on the organization's Web site, Madonna said she hoped to help "bring an end to the extreme poverty and degradation suffered by Malawi's orphans."

Madonna joins a growing list of entertainer-activists who have focused on Africa.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, whose daughter was born in Namibia earlier this year, recently announced they would donate $1 million each to two humanitarian organizations active on the continent. They also have two adopted children -- one from Ethiopia and one from Cambodia.

Mchiela told the AP on Wednesday that if they adopt, Madonna and her husband would be subject to a probation period required of all prospective adoptive parents.

She said that after the couple "fill in the papers, we'll allow them to take him away, not as adoptive parents but foster parents until after the 18 to 24 months, when the government of Malawi will assess whether they are a suitable family. This is a legal requirement that cannot be fast-tracked."

Madonna and Ritchie have a son, Rocco, 5, and the singer also has a daughter, Lourdes, 9.

2006 Oct 5