SHAYAMOYA: US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey launched her second project for poor South African children on March 16, 2007. An innovative, environment-friendly institution this would be a model for public education in the country.
While the girls’ academy is private, the $1.6 million Seven Fountains Primary School outside the remote town of Kokstad in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province is public. Funded by Oprah’s Angel Network, a public charity that supports organizations and projects focused on, among other issues, education and literacy.
Dressed casually in a cream top and white pants, the billionaire celebrity danced and sang with teachers and children. She has given a new lease of life to the school and instilled in children, especially girls, a desire to become achievers. “This is going to change my life and help me become a doctor,” said 11-year-old Nduli Amahle”.
Winfrey first visited the school when it was located on a farm in 2002, bringing gifts, clothes, books and teacher training materials. Impressed by the school’s 1,000 eager pupils and dedicated staff she was upset when it was forced to move from the farm to a building with no windows, little electricity and running water and only four toilets. During a follow-up visit in 2003, she made a commitment to build a new school.
With this funding comes the provision of a much needed night school, computer centre and ibrary. The school, which will be run by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, has 25 classrooms, library, computer centre and two sports fields. It also has a recycling system that harvests rain water and uses seesaws and merry-go-rounds to pump water. It uses solar power and has landscaped gardens that supply vegetables for school meals.
This is not Oprah’s first foray into community welfare. She had opened her Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg to great fanfare on January 2 with celebrities like Tina Turner, Spike Lee and former President Nelson Mandela.
Built on 21 hectares (52 acres), the 28-building campus resembles a luxury hotel, with state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science labs and a library, theatre and wellness centre. Each girl lives in a two-bedroom suite and the campus will eventually have 450 students.
As is the wont of celebrity living, the philanthropic effort has had its share of criticism with NGOs like ActionAid, a global development group, saying that Winfrey’s money could have been better spent improving the quality of education for more children. Few parents have also expressed concern about the diluting of traditional African values, in what may turn out to be a perfect model of Western education.