It started as a wish for a first-class school that would nurture, educate, and turn gifted young South African girls from impoverished backgrounds into the country’s future leaders.
Now that wish has come true.
Yesterday Oprah, along with a slew of celebrities, opened The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The school, which is a hour south from Johannesburg, ‘is an innovative high school whose aim is to discover, teach and inspire young South African girls to become a new generation of leaders. It is the first of several she hopes to build in struggling communities on every continent. The goal was to find brave girls, children who have already conquered adversity with a feeling of “I can!’
Oprah’s own success has come from a strong background in reading and learning. She believes that the greatest gift you can give is the gift of learning.
South Africa was chosen because ”it is the country of new beginnings, only 12 years out of Apartheid, and also because of my deep love for Nelson Mandela and all that he means to this country and to the world.”
The academy sits on a 52-acre site suggested by the Department of Education. It’s a full campus with 28 buildings nearing completion. Oprah has created the library she wished for as a girl, arranging plush seating around a welcoming fireplace, “so the girls can read by the fire and spend time there with their friends.” All of the classrooms have an outdoor teaching space, where a girl can” sit with a book or be with [her]self”.
The school will offer state-of-the-art technology, a gym, and, a magnificent amphitheater. Everything in the school has been chosen by Oprah herself. She has been very hands on with the selection of sheets, towels and pillowcases to the tiles and door handles.
Artwork by both renowned and emerging artists from all over South Africa has been commissioned so that the girls can live in appreciation and celebration of their heritage.
In August Oprah flew to Africa to personally interview the young ladies applying to attend the academy. Of the 3,000 applicants only 150 were accepted. During the process they were asked to tell her their favorite subjects and what they want to be when they grow up. They dream of becoming astronauts, chartered accountants, teachers.When asked who they currently live with most list grandfathers, cousin or aunts. Many have lost a parent to AIDS, some have been raped, others abandoned. Most are left to look after their young siblings.
The plans are for only 15 girls in a classroom, where each child will have attention. Her requirements are stringent: No pregnancies, no drugs or alcohol; hair must be short or neatly braided. Her hopes are high: The charter group will be made up of 7th and 8th graders, who will become the first two graduating classes. By then the school will have a student body of approximately 450. Trained in decision making, critical and expansive thinking, social responsibility and the rewards of giving back to one’s own community, they will be prepared to lead in the quest for peace, progress, and prosperity in South Africa and the world.
I am so proud of Oprah for dedicating her time and personal finances to improving the lives of these promising young women. I hope she has plans for the young men as well. There can be no symmetry without both sides being properly educated. The young men of Africa need great oppurtunities as well.