'These Are My Dream Girls'

01/04/2007 at 12:00 PM EST

'These Are My Dream Girls'
"I did not think it was possible to have this love for other people's children," said Winfrey (cutting the ribbon on Jan. 2 alongside some of her students).
Denis Farell/AP
'These Are My Dream Girls'| Oprah Winfrey

In the township of Soweto, the Hiine family threw a bash for 13-year-olds Palesa (top) and Lebohang, who were leaving for Oprah's academy the next day.

Halden Krog / Polaris

The talk show host herself was beaming at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Wearing a pale pink gown and a bright smile, she gathered her girls around her as she officially opened the school along with her longtime partner Stedman Graham, 55, plus celebrity friends including Tina Turner, Chris Rock, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, each of whom donated a personally inscribed book to the school's library. "I understand what it means to grow up poor, to grow up feeling you are not loved," Winfrey told the crowd, referring to her childhood in Mississippi, where she lived – without running water or electricity – with her grandmother. "I wanted to be able to give back to people who were like I was when I was growing up."

Back in the U.S., Oprah faced a smattering of criticism: Why was she sending so much money overseas when plenty of U.S. schools could use the support? In an interview with Newsweek, Winfrey addressed that issue. "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools [in the U.S.]," she said. "The sense that you need to learn just isn't there. [In America] 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."

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