Oprah Winfrey praises the students and alumnae of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in a heartwarming new interview.

Winfrey, who turns 65 on January 29, opened the boarding school in 2007; it now has facilities to rival top prep schools in the U.S.

The TV icon tells People of the students: “They are my greatest, deepest joy. I wanted to build a school for girls who are like me.”

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Winfrey explains how the girls now call her “Mom O”, gushing to the publication: “I did not want their mothers or their legal guardians to think that I was stepping in and trying to take over the role their mom holds in their lives.

“I’m very much aware of who I am and what my role is for them.

“They’re the daughters I did not have. I never thought that that mothering instinct was something for me. I like babies but I like them like, ‘Hi baby, okay, now go over there.’

“I like children when they can actually speak to me and tell what is the problem. This is how having children was supposed to manifest for me.”

Winfrey also discusses poverty and being raised by her grandmother in Mississippi when the Jim Crow laws were in place.

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She explains how her girls, “have been in the heart and heat of poverty.”

Winfrey adds, “Poverty itself is a traumatic event, just trying to be able to have food on your table every day. Most girls have lost one or another really close relative, sometimes both mother and father.”

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