In 2007, these five women joined the first class of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The media titan started the school to help girls like herself—underserved, black, and motivated—succeed in the hopes they would break the cycle of poverty. Ten years on, they tell how that opportunity has filled them with gratitude and fueled a desire to give back to their community.
“I was always yearning for a space that welcomed and nurtures embracing our true selves.” —Bongeka Zuma, 22
“Before the academy, I’d say I didn’t really have much of a future. I was born into abject poverty and orphaned at the age of 9.” —Mpumi Nobiva, 24
“It is my responsibility to inspire young girls in my community and to show them the importance of education and believing in your dreams and being authentic to yourself.” —Charmain Rantsieng, 22
“I would absolutely be insane not to make a difference in the lives of others after someone completely changed mine for the better.” —Thando Dlomo, 24
“My life was ordinary, but I always had a plan.” —Debra Ngcobo, 23