Johannesburg – It’s not her world famous talk show, or her TV channel, but her South African school for underprivileged girls which media mogul Oprah Winfrey now calls her “greatest reward”.
With a programming block of her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) kicking off this evening on TLC (DStv 172), Winfrey jetted in to South Africa to talk to her magazine readers at the first-ever African O You event on Monday and to attend the graduation ceremony of the third class of matric girls at her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) on Saturday.
Winfrey says 16 of the girls are currently studying in the United States and the rest are all studying at tertiary institutions across South Africa. Winfrey funds the tuition fees and tertiary education of the underprivileged girls from across South Africa.
“Opening the school has been one of the greatest rewards of my existence and in my life,” says Winfrey, adding that “I’ve felt super challenged by it.”
“As I was driving through places like KwaZulu-Natal it looked very much like a hilly Mississippi where I grew up as a poor child working hard with my grandmother. I saw poor women who looked like my grandmother. And I saw little girls who looked like me. And I wanted to be able to take girls like that, who wouldn’t have had the opportunity, but given the opportunity, could blossom.”
“On Saturday I attended the third graduation ceremony of matric girls. And every single girl who has gone to the school has gone to college. Every single one,” said Winfrey. “The thing I love the most about my school is that the girls are brilliant.”
‘Why is this happening?’
When I was going through the building of the school, I consulted my inner voice,” said Winfrey. “You can’t try and come to Africa and build a school if you don’t ask ‘God, is that okay?’ And I’ve been given the go-ahead. So then came all the difficulties and challenges, and I was confused by that. I thought: ‘You said yes?! You said it’s okay. Why is this happening?”
Winfrey said the challenge of starting her school and the various crises the school faced was exactly what happened again when she started her TV channel which also got off to a rocky start – both of which are now doing well.
“It was a lesson in responsibility and leadership. Those of you running businesses, those of you who want to start a business, it’s about who you get to help support you because everything is about leadership.”
“I’m thrilled to be a part of South Africa because I feel a connection to the people here, I feel a connection to the land, I feel a connection to the spirit of the country,” said Winfrey. “And I’m really so proud of the journey we’ve gone through in starting OWN in the United States. I was still doing the last year of The Oprah Show.”
“I recognise that I didn’t have the proper people, I couldn’t be in two places at the same time – not even I can do that – and finding the correct leadership in the people who have been leading the Oprah Show all those years.”
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