Oprah Winfrey opened her second school for poor South African youth Friday, an innovative, environmentally friendly institution she hopes will be a model for public education.
The Seven Fountains Primary School was funded by Oprah's Angel Network, a public charity that supports organizations and projects focused on education and literacy.
"The Seven Fountains School is an example of what schools in South Africa can become," Winfrey said at the formal dedication of the school outside the remote town of Kokstad in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.
Dressed casually in a cream top and white pants, the talk show host danced and sang with teachers and children who lauded her with cries of "Long live Oprah, long live!"
Winfrey first visited the school in 2002 when it was located on a farm, bringing gifts, clothing, books and teacher-training materials for its 1,000 students and staff.
The school was later forced to move from the farm and relocated to a building with no windows, little electricity and running water, and only four toilets.
During a follow-up visit in 2004, the Angel Network committed itself to building a new school.
‘We wanted to build the best school for you’
"We thought the school you had before was not good enough, so we wanted to build the best school for you," she told the children Friday.
The $1.6 million school, which will be run by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, has 25 classrooms, three multipurpose rooms, a library, computer center, landscaped playground and two sports fields.
The supply of water to the area is irregular, so the school has an innovative system that recycles rain water and uses seesaws and merry-go-rounds to pump water. It also uses solar power and has landscaped gardens that supply vegetables for school meals.
"It can be done within the expectations of budgets. We used our imagination and creativity to build not only a good school but a great school," Winfrey said.
Winfrey emphasized the importance of education in combatting poverty and said every child had a right to succeed. "We are here today to celebrate the transformative power of education," she said.
Nduli Amahle, 11, marveled at the school's transformation.
"I want to thank Oprah for giving us this school. It is going to change my life and help me become a doctor," she said.
Parent Lindiwe Mbambo said the school is also going to have a lasting affect on the community.
"Even as a parent I am going to participate here. There is a night school, a computer center and a library that we can use. I can't express my gratitude for Oprah. The old school was so miserable," she said.
Winfrey opened her Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg to great fanfare on Jan. 2, with celebrities like Tina Turner and Spike Lee in attendance, as well as former President Nelson Mandela.
Fulfillment of a promise
The lavish $40 million school was the fulfillment of a promise she made to Mandela six years ago and aims to give 152 girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.
But some parents have complained to local media about academy rules limiting the girls to one family visit a month and restricting their cell phone calls and consumption of junk food.
"It was a nightmare," Frances Mans told the News24 Web site. "We had only two hours to see my child. Surely this isn't a prison?"
John Samuel, chief operating officer for the academy, said parents had raised their concerns with Winfrey by telephone and had been reassured.
"They say they are satisfied that the girls are not being treated unfairly," he said, adding that the school had tried to discourage parents from bringing the girls soft drinks or sweets because they were fed a nutritious diet.
He said Winfrey had spent time at the academy meeting with staff and students ahead of Friday's event.
Samuel also dismissed complaints the school was culturally insensitive and said it was based on the African philosophy of ubuntu, which places an emphasis on the collective.
"We are very conscious of how we deal with people and have the community's interest at heart," he said.
Built on 52 acres, the 28-building campus resembles a luxury hotel, with state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science labs and a library, theater and wellness center. Each girl lives in a two-bedroom suite. It will eventually have 450 students.
But the school has been called elitist. ActionAid, a global development group, said Winfrey's money could have been better spent improving the quality of education for more children.