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School For Poor South African Girls Opens to Develop New Leaders

Billionaire talk show host Oprah Winfrey opened her new school for poor girls this week in South Africa. Winfrey hopes the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy will empower the young students to be the country's leaders of tomorrow. VOA's Jim Bertel reports many of the talk show host's Hollywood friends were on hand for the opening ceremony.

It began as a promise Oprah Winfrey made to former South African President Nelson Mandela seven years ago, a pledge to build a school that would give poor girls a first class education.

"Hello everybody, these are my girls," said Ms. Winfrey proudly.

Many of Hollywood's most popular stars were on hand for this week's opening ceremony -- including singer Mariah Carey, filmmaker Spike Lee, and singer Tina Turner. But the true stars were the 152 poor girls chosen to be the first class of students.

Maureen Kekana is one of them. "I believe that education is an open door to all life, a sustainable bridge to all that is possible. Education is my bridge to self-esteem," she said.

Winfrey -- who referred repeatedly to her own impoverished childhood -- said the student's stories are her own story and the opening of the school was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"Coming to this place has been not just a journey of charity for me, it has been the journey, the true journey, of my life to be able to be with these girls," said Winfrey.

Nelson Mandela thanked Winfrey for building the school, adding that Winfrey is a role model for all children to emulate. "Oprah has shown us that no matter what your background, how impoverished or underprivileged you were, you can become anything in life if you work and study hard for it," said the former president.

Winfrey hopes the school will change the way women are perceived in South Africa and that the young girls educated here will go on to be their country's future leaders.