Oprah Winfrey said Wednesday that she wants her new $40 million South African leadership academy to change the way women are perceived in the country.
“I wasn’t just trying to make a school that would develop political leaders,” the talk show host told the British Broadcasting Corp. “I’m looking for the opportunity to change the paradigm, to change the way not only these girls think ... but to also change the way a culture feels about what women can do.”
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, located in the small town of Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg, opened Tuesday 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.
Many state-funded schools, especially in the sprawling townships that sprang up under white racist rule, are hopelessly overcrowded and lack even basic necessities such as books. They also are plagued by gang violence, drugs and a high rate of pregnancy.
“I think the reason not just Africa but the world is in the state that it is is because of a lack of leadership on all levels of government ... and particularly in regard to schools and schooling for poor children,” she said. “The best way to effect change long term is to ... give children exposure and opportunity and nurture them to understand their own power and possibility.”