Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls, a school for impoverished girls in South Africa, just graduated its first class of 72 students. From its inception five years ago, the $40 million dollar facility has faced criticism. It was called too posh for poor African girls, derided for creating an expectation that being a leader means living in luxury. Headline-grabbing scandals have plagued the school.
In South Africa’s Daily Maverick, Rebecca Davis offers a critique of the international media’s coverage of the school and a levelheaded look at the school’s accomplishments.
She points out that Oprah’s role in the school has made it impossible for the academy to experience its growing pains in private. It has, paradoxically, been criticized for being too strict on the girls and their families, a sort of gilded prison. Yes, teachers and students have been caught behaving badly. Yes, administrators have been fired. Davis points out that other schools also have problems. But this is no typical school. This is, as Oprah put it, “the fulfillment of my work on earth.”
But Davis says that constant controversy has not altered the indisputable fact that their education has transformed the lives of these girls. All of the students are expected to continue on to university. Davis writes: “For the likes of Mpumi Nobiva, however—an Aids orphan now on her way to university in North Carolina—the fact remains that Oprah’s benefaction has opened doors that might never have been available to her.”