John Travolta and Nelson Mandela are among those expected at this week's ceremony in South Africa

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 01, 2007 09:35 AM

Oprah Winfrey is getting ready to open the $40 million school she paid to have built in South Africa – in grand Oprah style.

The 22-acre Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in the town of Henly-on-Klip is holding its big opening this week. Reportedly due to attend the ceremonies are John Travolta, Stevie Wonder, Nelson Mandela and Angelina Jolie, according to Newsweek magazine.

Winfrey, who handpicked the 152 12- and 13-year-old girls (out of the more than 3,5000 who applied), tells the magazine that the students “deserve to be surrounded by beauty, and beauty does inspire.”

And that’s what they will get. Winfrey personally chose the pleated uniforms the girls will wear, as well as the 200-thread count sheets. She also tested out the beds to make sure they are comfortable and had extra large closets built. The school also includes a yoga studio, a beauty salon and indoor and outdoor theaters.

“I wanted this to be a place of honor for them because these girls have never been treated with kindness. They’ve never been told they are pretty or have wonderful dimples. I wanted to hear those things as a child.”

As for critics who’ve said she should focus her efforts on the U.S., Winfrey, who has contributed to many American charities, says she was moved by the South African children’s desire for an education.

“I really became frustrated with the fact that all I did was write check after check,” the media mogul, 52, tells Newsweek of her previous charitable giving. “At a certain point, you want to feel that connection.”

Winfrey, who devoted five years to creating the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg, also said of the assistance she has given at home, “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there.”

In America, she says, “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.”

Winfrey has called the Leadership Academy “the fulfillment of my work on earth.”