Madonna's personal and Kabbalah Centre reps rallied round her yesterday to deflect criticism of her recent activities in Africa.
The pop star has been hit with a claim by the father of her adopted son, David, that he didn't know what adoption meant. On top of that come concerns about the use of a Kabbalah Centre curriculum in the African orphanage she's building through their joint organization, Raising Malawi.
Yohane Banda, 32, told a Malawian TV station he signed papers because he thought Madonna would "look after my child until he finishes school. … If I'd been told she wanted to adopt my son and make him her own, I would not have agreed to it. I'm only now realizing the meaning of adoption."
"I can say with absolute certainty that Yohane was fully aware that Madonna and Guy [Ritchie] were adopting David," her spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, told us. "Any reservations you are reading about in the media were, I'm sure, based on his being provoked by reporters. When and how often the baby returns to Malawi is not information I feel obliged to provide."
The Material-cum-Spiritual Girl was scheduled to do a satellite interview with Oprah today to air on Winfrey's show tomorrow.
Raising Malawi's Web site offers a testimonial by one of eight local teachers brought to L.A. to learn the Kabbalah Centre's Spirituality for Kids program to teach it at the Orphan Care Center, opening in March. The Kabbalah Centre Web site says children learn, among other things, that "what we really want from life is not physical things … but how these things make us feel … and additionally, it is not their parents who stop them from reaching their goals, but the voice within them."
It also says the curriculum "helps students receive uninterrupted happiness every minute, hour and day of their lives."
Cult expert Rick Ross of cultnews.com told us: "It's very sad that, unlike other celebrities, Madonna cannot do charity work in Africa without so many strings attached. Bono and Angelina Jolie have raised awareness of poverty there. Now Madonna comes in … and tries to milk it. I think that's reprehensible. Why does she insist on a kabbala connection? … I see Madonna's trip to Africa as similar to Tom Cruise's opening of detox clinics for rescue workers after 9/11."
Philippe van den Bossche, the project coordinator for Raising Malawi, sees things differently. "We have no intention of spreading kabbala, or indoctrinating people. Most of the organizations we support are Christian," he told us. "These are kids who have lost parents, family. There are psychological consequences to that. Ours is an empowerment program for children that is secular. It helps kids change the perspective of themselves and their situation." Malawi has 1 million orphans; 30% of its children are HIV-positive.
"Madonna hasn't made it a secret that her charity work in Malawi will include a Spirituality for Kids component," added Rosenberg. "SFK is nondenominational and helps teach children not to be victims - do unto others, to realize their true potential, empowerment, to take responsibilities for their actions. It is not much different then what a child would hear in Sunday school."