Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls - South Africa is a female boarding school founded in January 2007 and located in Henley on Klip near Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, South AfricaCoordinates: . The academy was founded by Oprah Winfrey with the goal of providing educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds.
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls was founded in January 2007 in the town of Henley-on-Klip, south of the city of Johannesburg. The student body consists of 152 disadvantaged girls from deprived backgrounds. The headmistress is Mrs Anne Van Zyl who has been at the academy since 2010. According to Winfrey the academy's goal is to mentor academically talented and disadvantaged girls and provide them with opportunities to make a difference in the world. "Girls who are educated are less likely to get HIV/AIDS and in this country which has such a pandemic, we have to begin to change the pandemic."
Winfrey was criticized during the opening ceremonies for the extravagant nature of the facilities of the school. In an article about the school's unveiling, Allison Samuels of Newsweek questioned whether the $40 million spent might have benefited a far greater number of students had the money been spent with less emphasis on luxurious surroundings and more emphasis on practicality. Winfrey responded by saying: "The best way to effect change long term is to ... give children exposure and opportunity and nurture them to understand their own power and possibility."
Rebecca Traister of Salon.com said: "The affronted sense that these girls deserved only bare-minimum accommodations and that a private citizen's money should have been used to educate them in bulk rather than in gracious individual style reflects our own beliefs that the bare minimum is all poor (black) girls need." Karen Russell of The Huffington Post asked: "Why are so many quick to question if these girls deserve the best education Oprah's money has to offer?" Other criticisms[who?] included the racial makeup of students but Winfrey says the "school is open to disadvantaged girls of all races and faiths. Many of girls chosen for the Leadership Academy come from families affected by HIV/AIDS. In March 2007, some parents complained because they were limited to one visit per month and students were allowed to use their cell phones only on weekends. According to John Samuels, the executive head of the school: "If there's too much movement on the premises at the weekend, it disturbs the school spirit." Nelson Mandela, who attended the opening ceremony, said, "the school is important because it will change the trajectory of these girls' lives and it will brighten the future of all women in South Africa. Oprah understands that in Africa, women and girls have often been doubly disadvantaged. They have had the curse of low expectations and unequal opportunities."
In October 2007, a female school staffer was accused of physically and sexually abusing students. Winfrey flew to South Africa to meet with school officials and parents on 12 October. Winfrey said: "nothing is more serious or devastating to me than an allegation of misconduct by an adult against any girl at the academy". According to the Afrikaans-language newspaper Rapport, the "dorm matron" allegedly grabbed a student by the throat and threw her against a wall. The unidentified woman is also alleged to have screamed at and assaulted her wards, as well as fondled at least one girl. The staffer has been put on probation pending an investigation. On 1 November 2007, Police Superintendent Lunge Dlamini announced that the 27 year old dorm matron had been arrested after seven students submitted statements alleging assault and various abuse at the hands of the employee. The Times, a Johannesburg newspaper, said the incident was unsurprising given that South Africa has some of the highest rates of child rape in the world, and Rachel Jewkes, a specialist on sexual violence with South Africa's Medical Research Council praised Winfrey's response to the problem. Merlene Davis of the Lexington-Herald Leader also praised Winfrey’s response to the crisis.
On 23 March 2010, the Associated Press reported that Winfrey settled the defamation lawsuit filed by one of the headmistresses at the Academy before the trial began.
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