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Building a Dream

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy

By Joe Wlos | null null , null

oprah winfrey and students
One of the goals of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy is to provide special girls with an education. (Photo: 2007 Harpo Productions, Inc./Benny Gool)

February 23, 2007

Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey had a dream to build a school. She wanted it to help empower girls who might never have a chance at an education or a chance to lead. On Saturday, March 3 ABC-TV will air an encore presentation of Building a Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, a primetime special about the opening of Winfrey’s school for girls outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

“My goal is to provide opportunities for girls to continue to shine into the future," said Winfrey. "Not just now, but 100 years from now.”

In the United States, all children are required to attend school. In South Africa, though, many kids from disadvantaged communities don't get a chance to go to school. One of the goals of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy is to provide special girls with an education, so they can be their very best. Winfrey hopes that the school will become a model for other schools.

"This is a school for leaders," said Winfrey. "This is a school for powerful girls who will use their power in service to their nation and to our world."

Building a Dream gives viewers a glimpse into how Winfrey’s dream became a reality, including the process Winfrey and her staff went through to choose the 152 girls who make up the first class at the school. Winfrey personally interviewed more than 200 girls.

"I was looking for girls with a special quality I call ‘having it,' " she said.

Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela
Oprah Winfrey and former South African President Nelson Mandela. (Photo: 2007 Harpo Productions, Inc./Benny Gool)

Seventh- and eighth-graders will be the first students at the boarding school. The program follows several of the chosen girls on their journeys. We learn about their personal struggles and the hardships they have faced. We get a glimpse of their home life and follow them as they get a first look at their new home.

Throughout all of this, we witness their courage and strength. We learn about their dreams for the future. And the program has us rooting for them to make the cut to get into the school.

"I see myself living the life I've always dreamt," said Thando, one of the girls chosen to attend the school. "I want to work hard and be the best I can be."

Winfrey’s commitment to this project is evident. She has devoted $40 million of her own money and five years to its creation. From overseeing construction on 52 acres of land to selecting the students, she is involved in virtually every step.

"I wanted to be personally involved in selecting everything," said Winfrey, "because I wanted these girls to know . . . they are worth it."

The program builds up to the opening of the school. Many of Winfrey’s friends were there to celebrate the big day, including retired actor and film director Sidney Poitier, singer and actress Mariah Carey, and Oprah's "greatest living hero"—former South African President Nelson Mandela. Mandela became President of a new democratic South Africa in 1994 after spending decades in prison for his political beliefs.

“We hope that the school will become a dream for young South African girls," said Mandela.

Don't miss the encore presentation of Building a Dream: The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, Saturday, March 3 at 8pm ET/7pm CT on ABC.


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About the Author

Joe Wlos is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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