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Many South African educators worry that Oprah is replicating the American paradigm of elite education. While they

applaud Ms. Winfrey's goal to educate young girls to become the country's future leaders, they worry that the project

might produce a privileged class that will not only become disconnected from their families and friends,

but also disinterested in the ongoing struggles of their communities.


Oprah's Good Intentions

By Rev. Irene Monroe


The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henley-on-Klip, just 25 miles south of Johannesburg, opened on January 2 . Zeroing in on the country's substandard educational system, Oprah's academy is one huge step toward remediation. But Oprah's generous gift has received condemnation at home and abroad, questioning her philanthropic motives, and raising ethical questions of what it means for Americans to give to Third World countries without imposing self-serving agendas and their own moral imperatives.

In a country plagued by HIV/AIDS, on a continent with approximately 53 million orphans, 12 million of whom lost at least one parent to AIDS, and with all the diseases and concomitant problems that come with poverty, Oprah's  extravagance for only 152 girls has many people wondering. Why would she spend $40 million on one school when she could have spent $1 million on 40 schools - if her objective is to improve and democratize education for girls throughout South Africa.  For many grassroots organizations and activists in South Africa, fails to distribute her huge donation in a way that produces the greatest good for the greatest number. In the eyes of Oprah's critics, the academy is a a shrine  built to herself on a world stage disguised as good will.

Many South African educators worry that Oprah is replicating the American paradigm of elite education. While they applaud Ms. Winfrey's goal to educate young girls to become the country's future leaders, they worry that the project might produce a privileged class that will not only become disconnected from their families and friends, but also disinterested in the ongoing struggles of their communities. Too many of Africa's educated classes leave family and village for a chance at success, never to return. Consequently, the monies and resources poured into these students never benefit their communities, and contribute to their country's brain-drain.

Another criticism of Oprah's excesses is in the design of the school: luxuries the girls have never seen the likes of such as fireplaces in each building, white duvets for each bed, a beauty parlor, and yoga spa. Oprah's critics feel that she's imposing a vision of  American "bling bling," when most South African students would be content with school uniforms, books and meals. On the other hand, these critics may seem to suggest that because these young black girls have not had such creature comforts in their lives they do not deserve them. 

Others ask why the question of gender was not raised during the international effort to rescue the "Lost Boys of Sudan" who were displaced or orphaned in their country's second civil war.

In South Africa there is another type of war going on that profoundly and disproportionately impacts females. Violence against women has not abated since the end of Apartheid. South Africa has come to be known as the rape capitol of the world. The Medical Research Council reports that 58% of young boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 19 do not  view forced sex as sexual violence, and believe that girls and women do not have a right to say no to their boyfriends  and sbands. Every six hours a South African woman is killed by her partner, lesbians are often subjected to gang-rape to punish them for not being "real women," and millions of women are infected with HIV/AIDS because of gender-based violence. 

Unquestionably, Oprah should be applauded for her effort to empower young South African girls. However, she disempowers them and diminishes her gift by ignoring community sensitivities. 

While it is admirable for Americans to want to help Third World countries in need, it is equally as important for us to respectfully ask how we can best meet those needs - the cardinal rule in International Philanthropy 101. Otherwise, Americans' donations - albeit motivated by good intentions, as Oprah's is - will continue to be perceived by Third World countries as unexamined acts of benevolent paternalism, at best, or unbridled colonialism, at worst. Why? Because how we give matters as much as what we give.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a public speaker and free-lance journalist based in Cambridge, MA. She can be contacted at

posted 2 February 2007

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John Coltrane, "Alabama"  /  Kalamu ya Salaam, "Alabama"  / A Love Supreme

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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