SEATTLE — Oprah Winfrey is known for her highly popular television show that ran for 25 years. During her time on the show, Winfrey helped hundreds of people a year from providing them with new cars to giving them large checks. In the early 2000s, Winfrey decided to take her philanthropic efforts global.
Winfrey’s idea to open a school came in 2002 when she took a trip to South Africa and met with Nelson Mandela at his home. During her visit, she pledged to build a school that would not only educate girls but also with the goal to end poverty through education. During that visit, Winfrey pledged $10 million toward the school, but by the time of its opening this had grown to $40 million. She selected all of the girls that would be accepted into the school, deciding that only girls from families who made less than $950 a month would be considered. In 2007, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls officially opened.
In 2012, the school had its first graduating class. Seventy-two girls, who had all been hand-picked by Winfrey herself, graduated, all with offers to attend universities in South Africa or in the U.S. This day was not only an important one for Winfrey and the girls themselves, but for the country as a whole, where normally only 14 percent of black students graduate from high school.
When the school opened, it was faced with a backlash from the surrounding community. Many people criticized Winfrey for only building one school, instead of many, and for providing a comfortable lifestyle for the girls who now attended the school while so many others were still suffering in poverty. Additionally, the school faced a scandal shortly after its opening, forcing Winfrey and the school’s staff to drastically change how things were being run.
Despite the challenges that school faced, after 10 years it continues to grow and help develop these girls into college-ready women. Winfrey stresses that all she asks from these girls is for their “personal best…and aim to bring positive change to their communities.”
– Olivia Hayes