European Union Ambassador for Humanitarian Tasha de Vasconcelos.

The Mozambique-born supermodel-turned-humanitarian Tasha de Vasconcelos has hit out at the adoption of African children by celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie.

By taking children away, Ms De Vasconcelos said, they are “ripping the heart out of Africa”.

As she prepares to open the doors to a new eye clinic she built in Malawi with her charitable foundation, Amor, Ms De Vasconcelos also criticised wealthy foreigners for “throwing money” at Africa rather than getting involved on the ground and working directly with the systems in place there.

“There is something inside me that cries every day for not being in the place where I was born,” Ms De Vasconcelos, whose family fled civil war in Mozambique when she was 10 years old, told The Independent. “That's how I truly know that you don't take a child out of Africa. If you want to help them, you help them inside their country.”

“You have to become close to the people on the ground: the ministers, the chief of the village, the people who are running the projects on the ground, and that means being hands-on. It is not enough just to send cheques.”

Ms De Vasconcelos, who grew up in Canada and is now based in London, launched Amor in 2006. She said: “As a refugee I have experienced the impact of leaving behind cousins, family members, grandparents and, most of all, the land we all love. This is why I do not advocate adoption out of Africa to a Hollywood lifestyle, as Madonna and Angelina Jolie have done.”

Following a recent visit to Africa, the 46-year-old model was made honorary consul for the G8 to “bridge” the gap between Europe and Africa.

Her words come as a further blow to Madonna, whose charitable endeavours in Africa through her organisation Raising Malawi, which she launched in 2006 after adopting a son, David, from the country, have come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

Last month, Eunice Kazembe, Malawi's Education Minister, rubbished claims by the pop star that 10 schools serving 4 800 local children in rural villages had been built as a result of a partnership between herself, her charity, and a non-profit school-building organisation, buildOn. She said: “The schools Raising Malawi claims to have constructed were already in existence. Raising Malawi only built 10 classroom blocks and not schools.” Raising Malawi and buildOn, its non-profit partner in the project, have rejected the claims.

Unless foreigners are willing to get involved on the ground, Ms De Vasconcelos added, they are doing everyone involved a disservice.

“[People such as Madonna] don't understand,” she said. “They don't know how it is to be an African. In a tribe there's a chief, he's got a community. You have to respect the chief first, then meet with the elders.”

Helping Africa, she claimed, is not just about building structures but education and creating jobs: “It's about building hope and prospects.”

As for taking children from Africa, she added. “I can't say how important it is that you don't take the children out. You help them there because you cannot imagine how much it is to lose your country.”

A spokeswoman for Madonna said the comments were “reckless”. She added: “Her children are thriving and well cared-for and are certainly being educated about their culture and where they came from.” - The Independent