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LILONGWE (Reuters) - Madonna launched the construction of a multi-million dollar girls' school she is building in Malawi on Monday and pledged to build similar schools in other countries if the project succeeds.
The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls -- in Chinkhota village about 15 kilometers outside the capital Lilongwe -- is expected to be completed in two years and will admit 500 girls from the small southern African country's 28 districts.
The construction is expected to cost $15 million.
"Growing up in a privileged life, I took education for granted...but coming to Malawi has taught me a lot of things and (I have) learnt to appreciate what life gives," Madonna said.
The singer, who has adopted two children from Malawi, said she wanted to give opportunities to underprivileged young girls.
"I realized how much they deserve to be educated and so for me the best thing I could do was to build a school, a unique school that will create future female leaders, scientists, lawyers, doctors and if this school is successful it will be used as a model to replicate it in other countries," she said.
An AIDS epidemic has left over a million children orphaned in Malawi, an impoverished country of 13 million people.
Malawi's government came under fire after Madonna adopted a 13-month-old boy, David Banda, in 2006, with critics accusing it of giving her special treatment by skirting laws that ban non-residents from adopting children.
In June this year, Malawi's Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling made in April which said Madonna could not adopt a four-year girl -- Mercy James -- because the singer was not a resident of the country.
Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by Muchena Zigomo