Oprah's Leadership Academy

When I first learned that Oprah was building a school in South Africa, I was filled with hope and joy. Life for women is difficult, and even more so in South Africa. Young girls, and women are routinely raped as it is thought that having sex with a virgin will cure aids. This is a crime of ignorance and hatred. Though South Africa is no longer an apartheid state, a vast majority of blacks have not experienced a great change in their living conditions. Many townships do not have running water and electricity. Parents still routinely struggle to pay school fees for their children. It is in this damaging environment, that Oprah built her Leadership Academy. She personally went to South Africa, and interviewed many of the 3500 girls that applied for the 150 places.

As part of the criteria for acceptance the total family income could not exceed 700 dollars a month. On Oprah’s site, one can view brief video biographies of some of the young girls that have been accepted to her school. I spent a few minutes listening to the stories of these brave young women and was deeply moved. Their lives have been touched by poverty, and aids. One young woman speaks of her daily fear of being raped. I am transfixed as I watch another feed her younger siblings oatmeal mixed with water….their supper for the evening.

These young women are victims of birth. How would their lives be different had they not been born black and female in South Africa? Would we even recognize them as the souls they are today? Into this quagmire of despair, Oprah through the building of a school hoped to interject a ray of light and hope. In the time since opening the Leadership Academy things have not run smoothly. Tiny Virginia Makopo a former matron of the school is facing criminal charges for indecent criminal assault.

Recently a young student suffered a mental breakdown. It seems that she could not adjust to the school environment. She is also suffers from epilepsy a condition that the school what not aware of at the time of her enrollment. She was scheduled to leave the hospital where she was admitted for treatment, and return to her impoverished home.

Does it come as any surprise, that even though these young girls have been given the opportunity of a lifetime, that issues with mental health would arise? In one testimony a girl speaks of watching her father kill her mother? How does one put that aside, to learn geometry and grammar?

For some girls this may be the first time that they have felt safe enough to even reflect upon the horrors of their daily existence. What these instances make clear, is that the soul must heal before the body can move on. In fact these girls were chosen in part because of the horrific circumstances that they were living in.

Ironically it is their trauma that stands in their way of transcending. These young women have been damaged by the conditions under which they have been forced to live. It is naive to think that handing them a textbook, and a uniform would be enough to drown out the echoes of the past. While the school is definitely a step in the right direction, unless these young women receive the mental help counseling they need to deal with past traumas, incidents like this will continue to occur.

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