Oprah Gets Two-Month Progress Report From African School

ByABC News via via logo

Feb. 26, 2007 — -- For six years Oprah Winfrey had a dream to open a school for girls in South Africa.

With the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy just two months ago, a $40 million school for girls, that dream has become a reality.

"Mom Oprah," as she is called by students, was recently given a progress report by the headmistress.

"Kinshie said that 12 girls had come in to see her and that they wanted to tell her, 'Thank you,' and for her to please pass it on to Mom Oprah, " Winfrey told "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer.

According to Winfrey, the girls said, "We've never had a chance to study in peace. … We've never had a chance to study without noise, never had a chance to study without violence."

In a special about the school entitled "Building a Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy," which airs tonight on ABC, when Winfrey travels back to her students' hometowns, she sees the impossible reality of fear and suffering in their lives.

"Their whole life is in one room. … I helped [one student] get water for the day from a nearby pump," Winfrey said. "She's 13 years old, and that is her responsibility, carrying a five-gallon bucket of water on her head several times a day."

When Winfrey tries to carry a bucket of water on her head, she fails.

"It was so sweet because she said to me, 'I don't think you can do it,' and I go, 'Well, I'm going to try,'" Winfrey told Sawyer.

While initially there was homesickness among the students, only one student returned home -- that was the result of a physical sickness.

"We're now at 151 [students]. One girl who became really ill … had to be transferred back, back to her home and her community," Winfrey said.

"There was a little girl who was really, you know, having some homesick issues. She is now the happiest girl. … … I say to her every time I see her, 'I'm gonna remind you until the day you graduate, that you were the one who wanted to leave.'"

"Because she actually had come to me. … And said, 'Look, I would like to … go home because I'm missing my mother so much. Would you pay for me to go to a school near my home?'" Winfrey said. "I said, 'No, I won't.'"

Since the school opened, American schoolchildren have continued to help. At the time the school opened, ABC News brought her a $1,400 donation from Combs School in Raleigh, N.C. The students had raised the money from their allowances, bake sales and extra chores.

"I prayed and prayed for a chance to have a new beginning at this school because this is a lifetime opportunity and I want to make the best of it," one student said. "Education is very important to me. I want to be a doctor and cure HIV/AIDS. Education is my bridge to service."

The school naturally makes other people grateful for the blessings in their own lives, Winfrey said.

"I think it brings about a sense of gratitude for what you already have. A lot of children who watched this said that to me," she said. "Also, [it] allows you to think about what is possible for yourself and what you can do for other people."

"I really felt like I was giving this school to you all, but what you have given me is so much more," Winfrey told the girls at her school. "So thank you for being such wonderful girls, such wonderful girls, really. Girls, thank you."

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