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Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa

Aired January 8, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
A big night, breaking news -- wildfires in California, an American airstrike against al Qaeda in Africa, and, as Larry said, Oprah Winfrey. She is speaking out, after spending tens of millions of dollars to build a school for underprivileged girls in South Africa, speaking out and taking heat, would you believe, for spending too much.


COOPER: I guess there's been some criticism in South Africa from some school officials that this is almost too extravagant, that the school -- the school is almost too nice for these kids.

But, for you, that was part of the message.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": You know, when I first came here and started the idea of building the school, people were saying, isn't that too much?

And the criticism was, too much for African girls. I was told, they are coming from huts. Why do they need all this? And my point was that you're -- it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what can be done with your life.

And, so, I wanted too create an environment, the most beautiful environment, that would inspire them.


COOPER: Tonight, you will hear from Oprah and look more closely at the lives this school is changing. It's a 360 special: "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa." And we are going to start that in just a few minutes.

But, first, the breaking news -- a wildfire in and around some of the priciest homes on the planet. We are talking about Malibu, just up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles.

Take a look at these pictures -- these from just about 30 minutes ago, very large home burning.

Here's what it looks like right now from our affiliate KTLA. We are going to talk in just a few minutes to the chopper pilot who took these pictures. Now the other breaking story tonight: an American airstrike on al Qaeda. It took place in southern Somalia -- the details still emerging. Already, we know who the aircraft might have been targeting and why.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre is working his sources at the Pentagon and elsewhere. He joins us now with the latest -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson two senior Pentagon officials tell CNN that the U.S. carried out an airstrike in the southern tip of Somalia that was aimed at killing two suspected al Qaeda operatives who were believed to be hiding along the Kenya border.

The attack was carried out by a U.S. Air Force special operations AC-130 gunship, a modified C-130 cargo plane, outfitted with a rapid- firing side-mounted gun that can deliver a devastating volley of cannon fire against ground targets.

The AC-130 typically flies low, circling the target while firing its .155-millimeter cannon. It can flatten a building within minutes. The U.S. had been tracking several suspected members of al Qaeda in Somalia after they fled the capital of Mogadishu, chased out by Ethiopian troops.

Pentagon officials would not specifically name who was targeted in the airstrike, but did confirm that among the suspects being tracked was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is on the FBI's most wanted list for alleged involvement in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998.

The other suspect was described as a senior al Qaeda operative. Now, military sources say the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower was moved out of the Persian Gulf and into the Arabian Sea, so its aircraft would be in striking distance, in case they were needed for the attack. But none of its warplanes were involved.

At this point, sources say there's no confirmation that the al Qaeda suspects were actually killed in the attack. But the U.S. is trying to get information that would answer that question.

It should also be noted that, in 1993, when the U.S. military was in Somalia, it used an AC-130 gunship to attack the compound of Somali faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid, based on what was said to be very firm intelligence that Aidid was inside.

When the U.S. combed through the rubble, it learned that Aidid was either not there or had escaped. So, these airstrikes, while coming from a very accurate weapon system, don't always guarantee that they got their target -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, as I -- as I recall, if my memory serves me correct, some journalists were killed after that airstrike by -- by that aircraft.

Jamie, following the story, appreciate that. Much more on the U.S. airstrike in Somalia and the Malibu wildfire coming up in our next hour.

But now we turn to Oprah Winfrey. She is the world's most famous talk show host, with an impressive legacy of giving -- and, tonight, one of Oprah's biggest gifts yet, a school in South Africa that she says she was born to build.


ANNOUNCER: Young girls with every reason to give up, a billionaire celebrity who says she sees herself in them.

WINFREY: I have been a living example, based on all the blessings I have been able to receive, blessings and opportunities, to -- to change my situation, my poverty situation, and what poverty told me I was.

ANNOUNCER: The kind of poverty that can crush hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's too hard to me. I don't want to lie. It's too hard.

ANNOUNCER: She believes she can change the world, one girl at a time.

WINFREY: What I'm trying to tell them is that it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what is possible for you. And this school is about opening up possibilities for these girls.

ANNOUNCER: One hundred and fifty-two very lucky girls, and the chance of a lifetime.

WINFREY: I can't even imagine what is going to happen to them. Their future is so bright, it burns my eyes.

ANNOUNCER: A chance to make their dreams come true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More than a dream come true. I don't know. It's like a fairy tale.

ANNOUNCER: But her efforts have stirred outrage.

WINFREY: I don't worry about the criticism, because I know that my intention is pure. And I know -- know that the goal is to create successful leaders for the future.



ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa."

Here's Anderson Cooper. COOPER: On 360, we have taken you to the Congo and Sudan, Uganda and Niger, places where the suffering is overwhelming and solutions seem out of reach -- well, tonight, a report from Africa about hope and change.

The story might sound simple, even rather mundane, a school for poor girls in South Africa, some of them AIDS orphans. But this isn't just any school. This is the school Oprah built, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls. And there is literally nothing like it anywhere in Africa.

The school is designed to build leaders and change the world one young girl at a time. It's also raised some controversy. And we will get to that in a moment.

We begin with CNN's Jeff Koinange, who was at the school's opening and got a first look inside.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": Everybody, these are my girls.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dream come true for 152 very lucky girls, and also for one very famous talk show host. Oprah Winfrey cut the ribbon and helped raise the flag of her very own Leadership Academy for Girls just outside Johannesburg.

And she brought with her a host of Hollywood's finest in both the movie and music industries, from Mariah Carey to Tina Turner, from Chris Rock to Chris Tucker, and from Spike Lee to Sidney Poitier.

Originally, Oprah committed $10 million, but, as her vision grew, so did her contribution, to $40 million. And there's no school like it here, a library with a fireplace, a dining room with marble tabletops, an audio-video center, a gym, a wellness center, dormitories, and tennis courts, and just 15 girls to a classroom -- that in a country in which more than a third of the children don't get a chance even to go to high school. And those who do often go to schools with few books, facilities or even bathrooms.

Winfrey aimed to help the poorest here. Only children from homes that earn less than $800 a month are eligible. Winfrey has worked to improve education in the U.S. She says she decided to build in South Africa because she found children here hungrier to learn.

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools," she said, "that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms, so they can go to school."

Oprah promised former President Nelson Mandela that she would build the academy six years ago, after she visited some of South Africa's poorest schools. NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: This is unprecedented in South Africa. And we should thank her for providing these young girls with not only specialized education, but life skills. That will ensure that they become the best.

KOINANGE: In this once racially-divided country, it's not surprising that most of the students are black. But Oprah insists her school is open to everyone, as long as they qualify.

WINFREY: This school is open to all girls who are disadvantaged, all girls, all races who are disadvantaged.

KOINANGE: And from the girls themselves:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel excited and happy and...

WINFREY: A little nervous?


WINFREY: A bit nervous.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel happy. And I feel like crying, and -- but crying of happiness. And I'm -- I'm a bit nervous, but not that much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More than a dream come true. I don't know. It's like a fairy tale.

KOINANGE: Jeff Koinange, CNN, Henley-on-Klip, South Africa.


COOPER: It's the kind of fairy tale that Oprah Winfrey could only dream of when she was a girl.

Today, she's so famous, her last name is beside the point. Just Oprah is enough. It certainly wasn't always that way. Oprah grew up poor in rural Mississippi. She had more than many of the young South African girls you're about to meet, but not that much more.

She told me recently that she sees herself in all of them.


COOPER: Oprah, you have said of these girls that: Their story is my story.

What do you mean?

WINFREY: I mean that we come from similar backgrounds.

And the experience of poverty and what poverty says to you about yourself is the similar story that we all have. And what I wanted to say to these girls is, where you come from, your circumstances, your situation, doesn't define you, because I have been a living example, based on all the blessings I have been able to receive, blessings and opportunities, to -- to change my situation, my poverty situation, and what poverty told me I was.

COOPER: So, the lesson you want these girls to get from your school, above all else, above all -- what -- what they learn in books, is that they should not be defined by the place that they were born into, to what they make of themselves?


It's not just the places you were born into, because, you know, this is a beautiful country. And I have a lot of girls at my school who come from backgrounds where they are living in a tin shack, or where there are nine people sleeping in one room, or where the circumstances are bad.

But the land itself, the country itself, what the land has to offer is a beautiful thing. And, so, I'm not saying that your -- your -- your background is a bad thing, because a lot of these girls come from bad circumstances, but find beauty in their surroundings.

What I'm saying is what the background tells you that you are, because being poor, not having enough in this world, no matter where you live, the world says to you that you're not as good, because you come from dire circumstances.

And, so, what I'm trying to tell them is that it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what is possible for you. And this school is about opening up possibilities for these girls, Anderson.

COOPER: It's interesting, because it sounds like even some South African officials have a hard time getting that message.

I know they -- they pulled out of -- of this program a while back. I guess there's been some criticism in South Africa from some school officials that this is almost too extravagant, that the school -- the school is almost too nice for these kids.

But, for you, that was part of the message.

WINFREY: You know, when I first came here and started the idea of building the school, people were saying, isn't that too much?

And the criticism was, too much for African girls. Criticism, for me -- for me, was, why are you doing all of this for African girls? Even when I started with my -- with the architectural structure, they were saying, why do you need this kind of environment for African girls, who are coming from nothing? I was told, they are coming from huts. Why do they need all this?

And my point was that you're -- it doesn't matter where you come from. What matters is what can be done with your life. And, so, I wanted to create an environment, the most beautiful environment, that would inspire them.

But it's -- you know, I said to the national education minister just last night -- I was saying, my biggest struggle has been getting people to understand my vision. And my vision was not to live in the past, was not to do things that had already been done, but to create a whole new environment that would inspire the girls.


COOPER: And Oprah certainly has created a new and inspiring world for these girls. It's almost impossible to describe how different, literally overnight, their lives have become.

For that, we have to show you.

Here again, CNN's Jeff Koinange.


KOINANGE (voice-over): Mbali Meyers has never thought of herself as a lucky girl. Her name means flower in the local Zulu language.

She lives with her mother and younger sister in this one-room shack in Alexandria, within of Johannesburg's poorest neighborhoods.

Anushka Meyers had Mbali when she was just 15 years old and had to drop out of school. She suffers from chronic chest infections, and can only afford to work part time as a domestic. Money is hard to come by. The family often goes to bed hungry in a house without lights or running water.

MBALI MEYERS, STUDENT: Sometimes, we sleep without -- not eating, because my mother's not working and we don't have food inside here.

KOINANGE: The Meyers share this broken-down water tap with 30 other people in the neighborhood, where they hang their washing in a public walkway.

The same 30 families share just one outdoor toilet. At night, Mbali burns the midnight oil by candlelight, doing her homework on her knees. There's no room here for luxuries like chairs.

ANUSHKA MEYERS, MOTHER OF MBALI MEYERS: We sleep here. We bathe here. We make food in the same room. We do everything, actually, in this one room, this small place, yes.

KOINANGE: At Mbali's former school, her teacher says, with conditions like these, it's a miracle Mbali has consistently been at the top of her class.

He had heard Oprah was looking for a few good girls, and persuaded Mbali to apply. But she was not alone. More than 3,000 girls had similar dreams. But Mbali's consistent hard work and leadership qualities won Oprah over. And she was selected to be part of the talk show host's best and brightest. CHRISTOPHER MOROPA, FORMER TEACHER OF MBALI MEYERS: It was as if it was meant to be like that. It was a God-given opportunity. I felt, we felt as teachers, that this was lovely for her.

KOINANGE: On Mbali's last day at her old school, she wrote these words on the board for her classmates.

M. MEYERS: To become a leader and an example to all of you.

KOINANGE: Two days before the start of school, Mbali gets a taste of things to come, picked up by a school bus for the very first time in her life, and joining her new, equally excited classmates.

A half-hour later, they arrive at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, and the beginning of a life this little flower could never have imagined.

KOINANGE: You personally insisted on visiting these kids' homes...


KOINANGE: ... during the interview process. Why did you do that?

WINFREY: Because I wanted to not just hear about, but to feel what their environment was like, to have for myself the information that says where you come from and what is your story. And what I learned by doing that is that their story is really also my story.

KOINANGE: What was it like being in their homes, personally walking in and seeing how they live?

WINFREY: Well, you know, I remember growing up poor, but I don't remember being that poor. I don't remember that kind of poor that devastates you.

I remember looking at some point in a -- in a refrigerator in a home. At least they had electricity. But I opened the refrigerator door, and there was nothing but a jar of curdled milk.

And I said to the grandmother in that home, who had death certificates -- who showed me death certificates for 12 of her family members, all children. And she was taking care of her children's children.

I said: "Well, there's only bad milk. What are you going to eat tonight?"

And she says: "We are not going to eat tonight. We didn't eat last night, but we think we can eat tomorrow." So, of course, I gave her something. But -- and -- and she was so joyous, just to be able to -- so, to realize you come from families where the girls haven't had any food -- and, let me tell you, the first dinner we had here -- we had Christmas dinner right here in the dining hall. And I said to the girls, you know, eat what you want, and told them how to use the napkins, and this is what -- the fork you use, and so forth. The girls piled their plates like football players, and were hoarding food, and were hoarding the food.

So, I let them finish that meal, and then said to them, you don't have to worry about being hungry ever again. There will always be food here. And, so, we don't have to hoard food. We don't have to hide the food. We don't have to eat so much food that we get sick, because there will always be food.


COOPER: Well, there will always be food and, of course, much more at Oprah's new school. It's literally a world apart from the one these girls are leaving behind.

It's -- it's also just the latest gift in Oprah Winfrey's long history of giving.

Coming up: how her philanthropy has already changed the world in some ways.

Also ahead: excruciating choices. Oprah interviewed all the finalists face to face, hundreds of young girls, all facing unimaginable hardships, all desperate to be chosen.

Coming up: Oprah tells me how it felt to have to turn away some girls.

Plus: across South Africa, so many children growing up without parents, forfeiting their childhoods to care for their siblings, running households, because all the adults are gone -- much more ahead on this special 360, "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa."


COOPER: The girls who applied to Oprah's school are the faces behind those numbers. Going without is something they do every day.

Oprah knows what that is like, because she also grew up poor. Today, of course, she's one of the world's richest women, and also one of the country's top philanthropists. Her new school in South Africa is just the latest gift in a long history of giving back.



WINFREY: All right, open your boxes.


COOPER (voice-over): When most people think of Oprah, one thing certainly comes to mind.


WINFREY: You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!


COOPER: Her generosity. In 2004, she thrilled her studio audience by presenting everybody with keys to brand-new cars.

But there's more to Oprah than giving away a couple hundred Pontiacs. As owner of Harpo Productions, which produces "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she runs a hugely successful media empire. From television, film, a Broadway show, her magazines, her personal net worth is estimated at $1.5 billion, good enough to rank her number 242 on the "Forbes" list of richest Americans.

But Oprah says her wealth has been less of an influence on her than her humble past. Born in 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Winfrey lived with her grandmother until age 6. She had no running water, no electricity.

GAYLE KING, EDITOR AT LARGE, "O": She remembers her grandmother washing clothes in the backyard, saying, "You better watch me girl, because you're going to need to know this." And something inside her knew that, "No, I ain't."

COOPER: Overcoming poverty, sexual abuse, a few bad relationships, Winfrey has always claimed more of a connection to regular people than your average billionaire. She's often said, with great wealth comes great responsibility to give those in need a better chance in life through education and inspiration.

WINFREY: One of my favorite quotes is Emily Dickinson, who says, "I dwell in possibility." I'm a living example of the benefit of opportunities, of education in the greatest country on Earth.

COOPER: In 1987, after her talk show made her a nationwide celebrity, she started the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which has given millions of dollars to support education and the empowerment of women, children and families.

In 1998, she created Oprah's Angel Network. She challenged her viewers to join her in improving the lives of those in need. So far, the Angel Network has raised more than $50 million, donating more than $10 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina, $9 million for school uniforms, supplies and other aid for South Africa, and millions more on high school and college scholarships for students in America and around the world.

"BusinessWeek" magazine, which says Oprah has donated more than $300 million of her own money to charity, calls her the greatest black philanthropist in American history, something the 152 girls at her Leadership Academy in South Africa can certainly appreciate.


COOPER: Well, $40 million is a lot of money. And some people have said that Oprah could have done more for South Africa by building a more modest school that could serve more students.

Oprah's Leadership Academy accepted just 152 girls out of 3,500 applicants. That's a 4 percent admission rate, which is tougher than Harvard's. All of the girls who applied wanted desperately to get in, of course. They have all faced similar hardships. They all have dreams.

But, in the end, there simply wasn't room for all of them.


COOPER: You interviewed each of these 275 finalists, selecting who gets in and who -- who, perhaps, you know, more difficult, who doesn't get in.

It had -- it has got to be an incredibly overwhelming thing, for you to have done this, to meet these kids, to look them in the eyes, and to have to turn away some of them.

What was that process like?

WINFREY: That was the hardest part.

The interviewing process was not just me. There was a whole team of people that interviewed over 500 girls. And, out of the 500 girls, the finalists, the people that they thought scored the highest, had the best opportunity for leadership, those girls were then brought to me, which ended up being 275 finalists. And I interviewed all of those girls.

And, yes, you're right. The difficult thing was being able to say: "I'm sorry. We don't have enough room for you" -- heartbreaking.

COOPER: Is it true that, at a certain point in interviewing them that you almost had to stop asking them about their backgrounds, because the stories were just horrible?

WINFREY: Well, we have everything from abuse, rape.

The majority of the girls -- as a matter of fact, we are going to have family day here in a few days, where their families will have an opportunity to see the school for the first time, because I thought it was important for the families to know where their girls are, to have a -- have a visible -- to have picture of where your child is.

And we call it -- we're calling it family day, Anderson, because so many of the girls don't have parents. Originally, we were calling it parents day, and thought, that's going to make the girls who don't have parents feel badly, because so many of the girls have lost either one or both of their parents to the AIDS pandemic here.

And, you know, it's -- it's really amazing, because the girls that are in the school are the girls who were able to say, my mother or my father died of AIDS, because, in this country, as you know, it's still -- it's still held against you. Nobody wants it on their birth -- birth certificate, still, that, you know, "My family member died of AIDS."

And so to have a girl to be able to say out loud, "My mother died of AIDS" means she's already one of the bravest people, because you're scorned. You're ostracized in this country, still today. Little children don't want other -- other people to know.


COOPER: In just a moment, one girl's story -- sadly, hers is typical of the life of many in South Africa, a child raising children, sacrificing her own education, because she has no other choice.

So, why hasn't the rest of the world found a better way to help these children? That's what Oprah wants to know. The world's most famous talk show host says, talk is cheap. She wants to see more action -- all ahead on this special edition of 360, "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa."


COOPER: So many children in South Africa have lost parents to AIDS, and the numbers just continue to climb. In a country of roughly 48 million, more than five million South Africans are infected with HIV. The epidemic has decimated families, leaving hundreds of thousands of children with responsibilities that no child should have to shoulder.

Again, here's CNN's Jeff Koinange.


KOINANGE (voice-over): Seventeen-year-old Busi Dladlu is a single mother of one, and like any young mother, struggles with the new challenges of caring for her 7-month-old son.

It's always mealtime here in her small shack. It's when little mouths are hungry that Busi feels the weight of the crisis that surrounds her. She is the surrogate mother of five orphan siblings.

Their mother died of AIDS more than a year ago, leaving a heavily pregnant Busi in charge of a household of hungry mouths ranging in age from 1 to 15. She's a child raising children.

BUSI DLADLU, RAISING HER SIBLINGS: I used to cry every day. The hardest thing when I wake up in the morning, the children come to me, "Hey, sis, we are hungry."

KOINANGE: No money for food, clothes or even medicine. Two of the children are HIV positive, 7-year-old Lalisiwe (ph) and 3-year-old Tulani (ph).

But as difficult as things may look, there does seem to be a ray of hope, in the form of Hope Worldwide, a U.S.-based NGO. Hope Worldwide provides monthly food rations to child-headed households in Soweto as well as counseling and supervision. MARK OTTENWELLER, HOPE WORLDWIDE: We're really overwhelmed by the issue of childhood households and abuse of orphans. Right now in South Africa there are about 5 to 5.5 million people that are -- that are living with HIV. We have over a million orphans due to HIV. By 2010, we may have 2.5 to 3 million orphans. Probably one-fifth of those will be child-headed households.

KOINANGE: Ottenweller says at the end of the day, organizations like Hope Worldwide can only do so much and that the various communities ravaged by AIDS have to chip in to help save the children.

Before that happens Busi and many like her seem destined for a life of misery and misfortune. As AIDS continues to wreak havoc here, reducing once thriving families into broken down households headed by children.

(on camera) Child-headed households, as HIV has devastated this country, literally decimated generations, what's going to happen? What can be done to help these kids? And there's more coming up.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST/PHILANTHROPIST: I would like to say to the world, the reason why the children remain devastated and are taking care of their own siblings and are heading households is because the world has not responded in kind.

The reason why that is -- that continues to happen is because people let it happen. There are enough people in this world with enough resources to make a difference so there are not child-headed households.

And so perhaps maybe there will be an awakening. You know, everybody has all these conferences and they talk about it and they talk about and what could be done.

What needs to happen is people like myself who have the finances and who have the access and who have the resources, corporations, need to step in. Step in and make some changes so that there are shelters and homes headed by adults who can take care of these children. That's what needs to happen.

People need to step up and stop talking about it. We already know what the problems are.


WINFREY: I don't want to go to another conference talking about what needs to be done.

KOINANGE: Talk is cheap.

WINFREY: Talk is cheap.

KOINANGE: Let's walk the walk.

WINFREY: Let's walk the walk.


COOPER: Well, Oprah is doing her part, but not everyone is happy about the school she's built in South Africa. From South Africans to Americans, people say the money could have been better used.

Coming up, Oprah responds to her critics and explains why she chose South Africa for her leadership school.

Also, you won't recognize her name but she is a hero, as well. Walking the walk in South Africa and caring for kids who have no one else. Her story, next in this special edition of 360.


COOPER: Oprah says a conversation with former South African president, Nelson Mandela, is what inspired her to build the school for girls.

It's been just over a decade since apartheid was dismantled, and much was changed in South Africa. But for those who suffered under apartheid, there is still a long way to go. Half of the population still lives in poverty. Huge gaps in population remain. And for girls, the very act of going to school often puts them in danger.

Human Rights Watch has reported widespread violence against girls by both their teachers and other students. Girls they interviewed were raped in school toilets and empty classrooms and hallways and in dormitories.

As we said earlier, there's nothing like Oprah's new school anywhere in Africa. And as she sees it, few students have a greater need for such a school than the girls that Oprah now calls her own.

Here's what she told me.


COOPER: So to finally see the school open, to see yourself in these kids, to give them really new lives, emotionally, what has this past week been like?

WINFREY: I don't have words for it. I really don't have words for it, Anderson. And I'm never a woman of few words, but I don't have words for it. I don't even know how to explain to people that it's -- I've used the word full-circle moment but that -- I don't know how to explain to you how it's like every single thing that's ever happened in your life, including being sexually abused as a child.

All of the energies of my past, all of the difficulties I've had doing -- you know, growing up and difficult relationships, all of that has come together to create a space where I so connect to the girls.

So I have a lot of girls who have been raped at 2 and raped at 5, and sexually molested for years and coming from physical abuse and bad circumstances. And I now realize all of that has come full circle for me so that I see myself in them. I see that I was able to find a way out and the way out came to me from opportunity through education. Education is the only thing that's going to save these girls and save this country.

And so what is so exciting to me is that -- is that I'm able to give back to people who really know how to receive it.

And so I know people that criticize and say, "Why didn't do you this for America?" Well, you know, say what you might about our education system, we do at least have a system. And we have a system that says no matter who you are and where you live in the United States of America, you have to go to school. You have to go to school. And if you don't, somebody's going to come looking for you.

Well, I have girls -- when I interviewed a little girl named Charlene back in August. And I said, "Why do you want to come to my school?"

She said, "Because if I don't come to your school, school is going to be over for me. This will be my last year of school."

And she represents a hundred million girls throughout the world, as you know, Anderson, a hundred million girls who will never get a secondary education, because their parents can't afford school fees, it's easier to keep the girls at home to do all the work.

And so this is an opportunity of a lifetime. And what's so amazing about it is, is that the girls and their parents know it.

COOPER: Could this model work in the United States? Would you build a school in America?

WINFREY: Oh, for sure it could. Long before I started the process of building the school in South Africa, I met with a number of people in the United States, Joan Hall in Chicago, who has a young women's leadership school in Chicago, the Seed School in Washington, D.C., the Ross School -- many, many, many, schools. Schools in California. I visited many private schools and private schools for girls specifically, so that I didn't have to reinvent the wheel.

You know, the most important thing is to learn from other people's mistakes. And everybody was really generous and gracious in helping me define the model for a school based upon the good things that have worked in other schools and also the things that hadn't worked. It's fantastic. Because I've had a lot of help doing it, a lot of help.


COOPER: As Oprah just mentioned, there's critics who falter for not spending that $40 million on American kids. And the U.S. does, in fact, have the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, despite its wealth. Take a look.

Among the world's 26 richest countries, Denmark scores best. Just over 2 percent live in poverty. France ranks seventh with a poverty rate of 7.5 percent. Canada is 19th, with a 14.9 percent rate. And the U.S. is 25th, with a rate of more than 20 percent. Only Mexico scores worst.

And some experts contend the schools that serve the poorest America kids might as well be in third world countries. That's how bad they are.

I recently talked about that with Peter Noguera, an education professor at New York University, and the author of "Unfinished Business: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap in our Schools".


COOPER: You say that there are schools right here in America that have third world conditions. How is that possible?

PEDRO NOGUERA, NYU EDUCATION PROFESSOR: Well, we have not funded schools equally in America. We do not take pride in ensuring kids have access to adequate facilities, where they can receive a good education.

COOPER: And is that a conscious thing, that a poor area doesn't get a good school?

NOGUERA: It is a reflection of the way we fund schools. We fund schools through local property taxes.

COOPER: So if the tax base in the community isn't strong...

NOGUERA: That's right. Typically they can't afford to pay for high teacher salaries or for adequate facilities for the children.

COOPER: What are the problems, though, behind just money? I mean, obviously, when you have students who are in trouble, students who don't have a stable home life, that ends up in the schools.

NOGUERA: Absolutely. And that's one thing as a nation we don't fully recognize. Many of the problems that schools face aren't really education problems. They're really problems caused by poverty, problems caused by families that are in distress and families that don't have health insurance. Kids who are hungry don't do that well in school, and we have lots of kids in America who are hungry.

COOPER: Can you do a percentage of how many schools work, how many schools don't?

NOGUERA: About one-third of the schools in this country, I would say, are doing very well. They compete with other countries with respect to standards and outcomes of kids. About another third are adequate, mediocre. Could be much better, but they don't do that bad. And many kids get through them and end up fine. And another about third are really very poor and really need major overhauls and need a lot more attention than they see right now.

COOPER: Is it as simple, though, as just giving more money to the schools? Because it seems like some of these schools aren't using the money wisely. Or they don't end up going to the classroom. NOGUERA: No, I think giving more money is not necessarily the answer, but money is part of the answer. The real question is how the money is spent and whether or not we're investigating it wisely, particularly in people.

Most of the money in education is spent on personnel, on teachers and administrators. We need to make sure we're getting the right people into those professions and supporting them so that they'll stay there.

COOPER: Some people, though, will say, look, this is a matter of personal responsibility. And if parents aren't, you know, making education a priority in their home, there's only so much a school system can do.

NOGUERA: Parents play a huge role and parents do matter in terms of the kind of influence and support they provide to their own children.

At the same time, we live in a country that should not rely on parents alone to ensure that kids have the opportunity to learn. We also have to meet parents halfway by ensuring there are schools available to them where those kids can receive a good education.

COOPER: The inequities that exist in the American education system, how much of it is because of race?

NOGUERA: A lot of it has to do with race. We still have a legacy of segregated school in this country that we are still grappling with as a nation. We still have many schools where African- American and Hispanic children go to schools that -- where they are exclusively together with poor children in facilities that are inadequate.

So segregation is by far not over, as an experience for many children in this country, but the political will to do something about it has pretty much been spent.

COOPER: What do you think of Oprah giving $40 million to this school and building this school in South Africa?

NOGUERA: I think it's great. I think it's great for those children to be lucky enough to go there. It's a great model. We need lots more examples like that.

COOPER: There's been criticism that that kind of money could have taught more kids in South Africa if the school itself wasn't so nice or that the money could have been used here in the United States.

NOGUERA: I think that's a very petty response. I mean, I think those kids deserve a chance, just as kids in the south side of Chicago deserve a chance. So it's not comparing one or the other.

The question is we live in a wealthy nation. Why as a nation aren't we doing more for our own children and not relying on private individuals to engage in active charities to support our children? (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Whether Jacksonville, Florida, or Johannesburg, South Africa, many of the same needs. In a moment, one woman's enormous mission in South Africa. We're not talking about Oprah. You've probably never heard of Gail Johnson, but she's a hero in every sense of the word. Her remarkable story coming up.

Also ahead, it took a village to build Oprah's new school. Who helped her? Including a classroom of children in North Carolina. Their story next on this special edition of 360: "Oprah's Promise: Building Hope in South Africa."


GRAPHIC: Male: South Africa, 47; United States, 75. Female: South Africa, 49, United States, 80.

COOPER: What those numbers mean, in part, is that a generation of South African kids are growing up without parents. Nearly a third of South Africa's population is 14 years old or younger, and many have lost at least one parent to AIDS.

Oprah Winfrey, of course, isn't the first person to help these kids. With fame comes attention and the benefits of celebrity. You probably never heard of Gail Johnson. She is a hero, as well.


KOINANGE: Sixteen-year-old Lolo has the grades but is too old to go to Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls. She's orphan and has been living in this orphanage with her younger brother since their mother died of AIDS more than four years ago.

LOLO KHAILE, ORPHAN: It was very difficult without our mother.

KOINANGE: AIDS has avaged entire communities in South Africa, and Lolo and her brother are just two of 61 AIDS orphans and abandoned children who are lucky to call places like this home.

The orphanage is run by Gail Johnson, a white South African who's been on a personal mission to feed, clothe, house and educate poor, orphaned and destitute black children.

GAIL JOHNSON, NKOSI'S HAVEN ORPHANAGE: They've lost their little community, in a way, because they've moved in with us. They have been stigmatized, because they are considered an AIDS orphan. So the children have gone through a lot. So the interventions that need to be done our huge.

KOINANGE: But Gail doesn't have Oprah's kind of money, nor her influence and often finds herself putting out the begging bowl to keep this place running.

JOHNSON: I have been begging -- and sometimes you often feel as though I'm begging. I need money to develop this and I've also got to extend the bathroom.

KOINANGE: Johnson says the orphanage costs her the equivalent of $10,000 in running costs a month.

The money is finally trickling in after six years of operation, and she's now able to afford to house foster mothers to take care of her foster kids. And Johnson insists she doesn't have the heart to turn anyone away, including 11-year-old AIDS orphans Patricia and her two youngest siblings, who live with their 90-year-old grandfather an hour's drive away. They often come to Johnson's orphanage when there's no food in her house.

Little Patricia says she's had to become the mother of her two younger siblings because they don't understand that she's gone forever.

PATRICIAN, ORPHAN: She was always there for us and loving and caring for us and that's why I miss her.

JOHNSON: They believe in counseling after their mom is gone. We nurture that, and we try and fill gaps. But there are some gaps that just cannot be filled.

KOINANGE: But some gaps are being filled. And people like Gail Johnson are helping a generation of grieving children to heal.

(on camera) For people trying to do or wanting to do what Oprah has just done, build a school to help kids out, to raise kids that aren't their own?

WINFREY: Yes, this is what I say to everybody. There was a classroom down in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, that -- a classroom of children who together collected pennies, dimes and in big jars raised $1,447 and sent to me for the girls of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. These are kids that just heard that I was building a school.

And so those children in Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, are the perfect example of each person looking inside themselves saying, "What can I do?" If you're a kid, it's a lemonade stand and some pennies and quarters -- I wouldn't charge a quarter. I'd charge 50 cents.

But everybody, this is what I want to do, is to inspire other people. Not everybody has the finances to build a school. Of course, many corporations do. That's why I wanted to do this alone.

I wanted to do it alone to say this is what one person can do. I'm not a corporation. I'm one person. But what I hope it will do is inspire other people, particularly in the field of education, because that is the answer. That is the answer to saving the children. You can't change them unless you change what they think, first about themselves and what they can do. That's how you do it.

KOINANGE: After building this -- you were doing all this, and we saw -- there's a lot of work to be done. And now it's done, it's complete. WINFREY: Yes.

KOINANGE: Forty million dollars later.

WINFREY: Yes, $40 and counting.

KOINANGE: And counting.

WINFREY: Forty-plus.


WINFREY: And it will all be -- you know, it's going to take -- it took what it took to build it. But to sustain it, you know, every single girl it costs a lot of money for teachers and staff and 24/7, 365 days a year to keep the school going. But I'm prepared to do that. I'm prepared to do it.

I'm prepared to do it if people offer to help and I'm prepared to do it if they don't.

KOINANGE: And you don't worry about the criticism? Because I know have you a broad back and a big heart. But the criticism.

WINFREY: Yes. I don't worry about the criticism, because I know that my intention is pure, and I know that the goal is to create successful leaders for the future. And the way to do that, you know, the criticism that how are you going to take these girls out of their environment and how are they going to be able to live with their parents after this or with family members?

I was able to do it. I said what is the answer? Keeping everybody poor, so nobody progresses? The idea is to allow these children an opportunity so that they would go back to their families and their communities and lift their communities and families up.


COOPER: For Oprah, the first step of that dream has come true: 152 young girls who had their futures handed back to them. The life- changing experience for them and for the woman who made it possible. That's when 360 continues.


COOPER: This has been a momentous time for the 152 young girls who are now settled into their new dormitories at Oprah's school. Their lives will never be the same. I read that one of the girls in her admissions interview with Oprah said she wanted to go to the school because it was her tomorrow.

Here's the rest of our interview.


COOPER: I read in your magazine that you said for months, maybe years, you had dreamed of the school and dreamed of these children. And yet, in your dreams, you couldn't actually see their faces. You could now see their faces You have interacted with them. You know their names.

What do you see in those faces now that you couldn't see in your dreams?

WINFREY: Hope. I see and feel the hope. And it's an enormous feeling, to be able to offer this kind of hope where there wasn't any. I mean, and I really know and they really know that, had this opportunity not come along, they would have a completely different kind of life.

You know, I'm going to ensure that every single girl here has an opportunity to go to college and choose the university of her choice. And when I said that to one of the girls, she said, "Well, who's going to pay for that?"

And I said, "I'm going to pay for it."

And she held her -- covered her face with her hands, and she wept.

And I said, "Faketso (ph), why are you weeping?"

And she said, "I'm weeping at the thought. I'm weeping at the thought of going to university."


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