On Her New School for Impoverished Girls in South Africa: 'I Wanted to Take

Girls With That 'It' Quality and Give Them the Opportunity to Make a

Difference in the World'

On Why She Chose Not to Build a New School in the U.S.: 'I Became so

Frustrated With Visiting Inner-City Schools That I Just Stopped Going. The

Sense That You Need to Learn Just Isn't There'

Dec 31, 2006, 00:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, Dec. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- Oprah Winfrey has spent five years
 and $40 million building the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls
 school in South Africa for impoverished teenagers. Built to Oprahlicious
 specifications, the school is situated on 22 lush acres and includes 28
 buildings with oversize rooms, 200-thread-count sheets, a yoga studio,
 beauty salon, indoor and outdoor theaters, hundreds of pieces of original
 tribal art and sidewalks speckled with colorful tiles. "I understand that
 many in the school system and out feel that I'm going overboard, and that's
 fine. This is what I want to do. I wanted to take girls with that 'It'
 quality, and give them an opportunity to make a difference in the world,"
 she tells National Correspondent Allison Samuels in Newsweek's January 8,
 2007 issue (on newsstands Monday, January 1). "I'd like to think I have as
 much good sense as I have money, so that's a lot of good sense."
     (Photo: )
     Samuels, who spent several days with Oprah at the school site in South
 Africa, reports that Oprah decided to build her own school because she was
 tired of charity from a distance. "When I first started making a lot of
 money," Oprah tells Newsweek, "I really became frustrated with the fact
 that all I did was write check after check to this or that charity without
 really feeling like it was a part of me. At a certain point, you want to
 feel that connection."
     Oprah also knows that some people will complain that charity should
 begin at home, even though she has provided millions of dollars to educate
 poor children in the United States, especially via her Oprah Winfrey
 Scholars Program, Samuels reports. But she sees the two situations as
 entirely different. "Say what you will about the American educational
 system -- it does work," Oprah tells Newsweek. "If you are a child in the
 United States, you can get an education." And she doesn't think that
 American students -- who, unlike Africans, go to school free of charge --
 appreciate what they have. "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city
 schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just
 isn't there," she says. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they
 will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for
 money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."
     More than 3,500 girls applied for 152 spots -- and Oprah interviewed
 all of the 500 finalists herself. There were so many heartbreaking stories
 -- one in eight South Africans are HIV-positive -- that Oprah finally
 stopped asking girls about their backgrounds. She had to do something very
 un-Oprah-like: she buried her emotions. "If I didn't find a way to separate
 my feelings, I'd have been crying the entire month I was in Africa," she
 tells Newsweek. "I see myself in all these girls -- the struggles and the
 hardships that just seem unbearable," she says. "I have nothing but respect
 for them. I can't understand how someone who's been there can't want to
 reach back and do something." Oprah calls the school "the fulfillment of my
 work on earth."
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SOURCE Newsweek