When most think of Madonna, cone-shaped bras and voguing instantly come to mind — but in reality, the pop icon is so much more than a material girl.
Over the past 11 years, the singer has become one of the most impactful philanthropists in southeast Africa with her charity Raising Malawi. And for this week’s issue, Madonna invited PEOPLE to journey with her to the beautiful and struggling nation, from which she adopted four of her six children: David, 11, Mercy, 11, and twins Estere and Stella, 5. On July 11, the mega-mom and her family returned to Malawi’s business capital, Blantyre, for the opening of the Mercy James Centre for Pediatric Surgery and Intensive Care, the first children’s hospital in the country.
A month later, at her home in London, Madonna, 59, sat down with PEOPLE to open up about her life as a mom, her emotional adoption journey — and why she’s dedicated to helping the children of Malawi.