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Koinange: Oprah school opens hearts, minds in S. Africa

Mother calls Oprah 'angel'

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CNN correspondent Jeff Koinange

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On the Scene
South Africa
Oprah Winfrey
Jeff Koinange

MEYERTON, South Africa (CNN) -- Talk show host Oprah Winfrey handpicked on Sunday 73 South African disadvantaged girls, the first of hundreds of girls who will attend her new school just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.

The $40 million, 50-acre Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, scheduled to open in January, will provide its 450 students with textbooks, uniforms and meals, as well as an opportunity to learn, lead and dream.

CNN's Daryn Kagan spoke with CNN Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange about Oprah's school and the girls' reactions.

KAGAN: Jeff, what was it like to be there, to be around Oprah, to see the energy and the smiles on those beautiful girls?

KOINANGE: I still have goosebumps when I listen to those girls. It's unbelievable. One of the parents said she thought angels only were in heaven, and that Oprah was an angel. And Oprah was so genuine. She came personally; she forfeited her vacation to personally interview all of the girls. And more than 3,000 applied for the school. That tells you right there. Unbelievable, Daryn. It's a different story from what I'm used to doing.

KAGAN: How different is this opportunity compared to, not just what these girls would face, but other children in South Africa? Is this unheard of, this kind of facility?

KOINANGE: Literally, unheard of. I mean, this school, we've visited it ... It has everything, an amphitheater that seats about 600 kids. And Oprah will be apparently live on video conferencing in every once in a while just to check up on the girls. They have a library with a fireplace in it, a modern kitchen with marble table tops. It's an amazing school. The classes have an average of 15 kids. So the personal attention will be right there, rather the schools where the average in a class is maybe 30, 40, kids. This one is 15. And teachers, by the way, will be recruited from around the world. It will be multiethnic, multinational. It's going to be a really good thing for South Africa.

KAGAN: Without this opportunity, these specific girls, what kind of future would most of them face?

KOINANGE: In a word, dim. One of the girls, her mother died of AIDS about a year and a half ago. They live in a home with seven kids. And this is the average. After high school, they have no where to go, nothing to do, despite the fact that they're qualified, so smart, so brilliant and so eager to learn. The fact that they have this now opens up a whole new world. Like Oprah was saying, it takes their lives in a completely different direction. And they realize this. You can see this in their eyes when they're jumping up, saying, "We love you, Oprah."

KAGAN: What do you see when you look into those beautiful faces?

KOINANGE: I wish I was still 13 years old. I would want to go to that school. That's how I felt.

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