Friday, March 16, 2007

Oprah opens South African school funded by her Angel Network

SHAYAMOYA, South Africa : U.S. talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is to open her second school for poor South African youth Friday, this one an innovative, environment-friendly institution she hopes will be a model for public education in this country.

This comes as authorities at the exclusive private academy for poor girls that Winfrey opened in January dismissed complaints it is too strict.

The 12 million-rand (US$1.6 million; euro1.2 million) Seven Fountains Primary School in a remote town in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province was funded by Winfrey's Angel Network, a public charity that supports organizations and projects focused on, among other issues, education and literacy.

Winfrey first visited the school when it was located on a farm in the area during her Christmas Kindness 2002 initiative. Bearing gifts, clothing, books and teacher training materials, she was impressed by the school's 1,000 eager pupils and dedicated staff.

The school was later forced to move from the farm and relocated to a building with no windows, little electricity and running water and only four toilets.

During a follow-up visit by Winfrey's Angel Network in 2004, the organization committed itself to building a new school for the pupils.

The school, which will be run by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, has 25 classrooms, three multipurpose rooms, a library, computer center and two sports field.

It also has seesaws and merry-go-rounds that pump water, solar powered streetlights and landscaped gardens that supply vegetables for school meals.

"Our intention is that this school design will serve as a template for other public schools in South Africa,'' Winfrey said in a statement Friday.

Winfrey opened her Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg to great fanfare on Jan. 2 with celebrities like Tina Turner and Spike Lee in attendance as well as former President Nelson Mandela.

The lavish US$40 million (euro30.24 million) school was the fulfillment of a promise she made to Mandela six years ago and aims to give 152 girls from deprived background a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.

"This school is a symbol of leadership for Africa,'' Winfrey said at the time.

But some parents have complained to local media about academy's rules limiting girls to one visit a month and restricting their cell phone calls and consumption of junk food.

"It was a nightmare,'' foster parent Frances Mans told the News24 Web site. "We had only two hours to see my child. Surely this isn't a prison or an institution?''

There have been other complaints about a lack of respect for African culture and tradition after one of the girls was allegedly refused permission to attend the funeral of a member of her extended family.

John Samuel, chief operating officer for the academy, said unhappy parents who had raised their concerns with Winfrey on the phone had been reassured.

"They say they are satisfied that the girls are not being treated unfairly,'' he said.

He said Winfrey had spent time at the academy meeting with staff and pupils ahead of Friday's event.

Samuel said the academy tried to discourage parents from bringing the girls soft drinks or sweets as they were well-looked after and received a nutritious diet.

Samuel also dismissed complaints that the academy was culturally insensitive and said it was based on the African philosophy of ubuntu, which places an emphasis on the collective.

"We are very conscious of how we deal with people and have the community's interest at heart,'' he said.

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, theater and wellness center. Each girl lives in a two-bedroom suite. It will eventually have 450 students.

But the school has been called elitist. ActionAid, a global development group, said Winfrey's money could have been better spent improving the quality of education for more children.

Source Source2
[tags : ]

No comments:

Your Ad Here