Oprah's first South African class graduates from high school
Jan 14, 2012, 12:43 GMT
Johannesburg - US talk show host Oprah Winfrey was in South Africa on Saturday to watch the first class of her Leadership Academy for Girls graduate from high school.
The school was founded in 2007 and, from the 75 girls who joined the first class, 72 will graduate. All the graduates will be going to universities in South Africa or the United States.
On average, only about half of those who start high school in South Africa graduate, and of those only a quarter perform well enough to be accepted to university.
According to reports, Winfrey spent upwards of 40 million dollars on her school in South Africa, which focuses on disenfranchised girls from poor townships and rural areas.
The country is still trying to recover from decades of apartheid rule, when non-whites were harshly discriminated against by the government.
The inequalities affected all areas of life, including the education system, and placed blacks and others at a severe disadvantage.
The principal of Oprah's school, Anne van Zyl, told the Star newspaper that many of the graduates came from wrecked homes and some were orphans. Many had been to inferior primary schools before joining the elite academy.
The girls 'have come to know that this is their chance to break the cycle of poverty. Therefore, we have not found the need to foster discipline. We don't waste any energy on discipline,' said van Zyle, adding that the students 'are very thirsty for education.'
The school has had its share of scandals, including a case in which an employee was accused of abuse.
Winfrey has also been criticized for spending too much money on luxuries at the school, instead of spending the funds on educating more girls.
But Winfrey says that her school is focused on creating future leaders, and the expenses are justified.
As a celebrity, she also commented, all her decisions would be met with complaints and the mistakes would be amplified by the media.
As part of the school programme, pupils are required to give back to their communities through charitable projects, like building homes for the poor and helping to promote safe sex habits, to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
South Africa is the country with the largest number of people living with HIV. It was through charity work on HIV/AIDS that Oprah became involved in the country in 2004, and from there the idea of an academy for poor girls evolved.
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