Oprah Winfrey on First Graduation for South African School – The Class of 2011

The South African school year ends in December in time for summer vacation. Oprah Winfrey is in South Africa to attend graduation of the first graduating class of her elite academy and while she has spent millions on this school for underprivileged South African girls, she is now contemplating the question of  lways to make money work to help more struggling Africans.

One thing South Africa does not need is to create an elite; but what it did need was BRAND Winfrey; and the role model that stands behind it! Now perhaps some  lessons from the graduating class of 2011, shedding light on the great need for education resources in that country.

Winfrey spoke Friday on the eve of the first graduation for her school, The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, in Henley-on-Klip Johannesburg. Of the 75 students who started school in 2007, 72 will graduate Saturday and all are headed to universities in South Africa and the United States to pursue studies in medicine, law, engineering and economics.

In dismal contrast, across the rest of South Africa, 496,000, only half of Class of 2011 sat for final examinations, while only 25% of that number qualified for College.

“We’re taking a victory lap here, for transformation,” Winfrey told AP. “Every single girl is going to leave here with something greater to offer the world than her body.”

South Africa is struggling to overcome low unemployment, failures to deliver basic services such as water and electricity, high incidence of rape, poverty and exceedingly high crime rates. The country is short of schools and resources at every level.

Winfrey spent $40 million on the school campus, said her focus was “just to change one girl, affect one person’s life.” But she acknowledged hers “is not a sustainable model for most people in most countries.”

If the ANC would fulfill its post apartheid mandate, it would end corruption and enhance education; and perhaps the rest of South Africa’s youth could be as fortunate as the girls from the Winfrey academy!  What Winfrey has done is shown that with money and focus education can be accomplished at the highest of levels. The question is why the ANC has not allocated the resources.

Another new class starts at Winfrey’s school next week. But to help more young Africans, Winfrey said she would be working with established philanthropies to identify schools around the developing world that can be strengthened with money.

She hopes to adapt some of the practices of her school, including creating strong support networks for students. “It takes a lot of support, it takes a whole team,” she said, saying teachers and communities would have to be active participants.

Her focus on girls was not among the strategies she would change. Winfrey said studies have shown helping girls helps entire communities, in part because girls and women give back so much.


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