By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
March 25, 2011 at 06:38 PM EDT
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Madonna’s high-profile effort to build a $15 million school in the impoverished country of Malawi has collapsed after her organization put $3.8 million into the now-abandoned project.

Raising Malawi—the charity Madonna co-founded with fellow Kabbalah enthusiast Michael Berg—announced that in spite of the $18 million raised thus far, the project has been shelved.

“A thoughtful decision has been made to discontinue plans for the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, as it was originally conceived,” Berg said in an email to past contributors.

An explanation as to why this project was abandoned has not been given, but it’s worth noting that last October the organization’s executive director—Philippe Van Den Bossche, the boyfriend of Madonna’s former trainer Tracy Andersonstepped down after auditors decried the organization’s excessive expenditures for a school-building project that had not even broken ground.

Madonna issued a statement promising that the $18 million Raising Malawi has already brought together—much of it through Hollywood fundraising and the Kabbalah Centre International, of which Berg is the co-director—will still go toward unnamed charitable efforts in Malawi.

“There’s a real education crisis in Malawi,” she said. “Sixty-seven percent of girls don’t go to secondary school, and this is simply unacceptable. Our team is going to work hard to address this in every way we can.”

Following Van Den Bossche’s exit, Madonna brought in Trevor Neilson—a founder of Global Philanthropy Group and a charity advisor to Bono and President Bill Clinton—for consultation. Paraphrasing Neilson, the New York Times says that “he told her that building an expensive school in Malawi was an ineffective form of philanthropy, and suggested instead using resources to finance education programs through existing and proven non-governmental organizations.”

Whether the millions of dollars Raising Malawi is sitting on will go toward existing charities (as Neilson suggested) or another original project conceived by the organization remains to be seen.

What do you think—can this situation be salvaged?

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