Off to Oprah’s Academy for Girls

2009-12-08 00:00

“AN opportunity of a lifetime and a ticket into a future bright with possibilities.”

That, for the ecstatic families and the schools, sums up the prospects of two local girls who have been selected to join the prestigious Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls next year.

When Nottingham Road Primary School received a letter of acceptance for Sinqobile Mbambo (11) from the academy last month, it called a special assembly to announce the good news.

“The teachers were crying. My voice was gone. It was a very special moment and emotional experience,” said proud principal, Patrick Murray.

Having been at the school for two terms, Murray emphasised that he was receiving the “glory” for all the leg work done by the now-retired Fran Winckworth.

Sinqobile’s mother, Maureen ­Mbhele, admits the news helped her discover her voice in ways she has never known existed before.

“I screamed until I almost lost my voice. Everything just stopped, I was so excited. I went and told her grandmother; everyone was hugging each other, laughing and dancing. It was amazing.”

The girls at Oprah’s school are chosen for their academic competence and their demonstration of leadership qualities. But the children must also be from disadvantaged backgrounds.

For Sinqobile’s mother, who is a cook and a single parent of three, this opportunity means relief from financial stress.

While she has come a long way from her first salary, which was only R28, she had sense enough to recognise that her daughter possessed a special gift that needed cultivating at a good school.

But as Mbhele would tell you, she got more than she bargained for. Her daughter’s restless mind not only raises those questions her mother has no answers for, but she even corrects her mother’s English.

“I want to be a microbiologist,” said the softly spoken girl, who also dreams of opening an old age home and a learning centre for those, battered by life’s circumstances, who have missed out on education.

She believes she did well at the interview because she did her best and because she went with the understanding that, if accepted, money would never be a problem for her again.

Nokwanda Zondi (12) of Mpophomeni, a pupil at Howick West Primary, said she was never nervous about making it as one of the chosen 50 of 8 000 initial entries across the country, since she had the backing of her teachers.

Her class teacher described her as a confident all-rounder with strong leadership qualities.

“I think we all prayed a lot in the past few months. The children had to go through a rigorous process of interviews, psychological and psychometric testing. They were tested for leadership skills; it was really intense,” she said.

Nokwanda said she will mostly miss her friends in KZN, but thinks her “very beautiful” new school will make up for it.

She plans to be a social worker and help the community like her mother, Thunyiwe Sokhela, who works with the aged and orphans through the Ethembeni Care Centre.

An excited Sokhela told The Witness that the little knowledge she has of Oprah’s school is from what she has seen on television.

She never dreamt that this could happen to her.

“My wish is that Nokwanda will use this opportunity and do well. And that she doesn’t forget where she comes from,” said Sokhela.

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