Angel from Soweto
The Ebersols said Teddy's untimely death taught them how to celebrate life, and now, the family shares how losing Teddy brought new meaning to a special family project. The project, a documentary film called Ithuteng, tells the story of an extraordinary South African woman and the children who call her "Mama Jackey."
According to the Ebersols' research, Ithuteng Trust is the only school in Africa with a 100 percent graduation rate. Nelson Mandela has called Mama Jackey the "angel of Soweto."
Charlie Ebersol was the first to meet Mama Jackey and her students when he visited South Africa during his junior year of college. He promised them that he would return to tell their stories through film.
Rape victims like Lebo and victims of other violent crimes are taught radical coping methods at Mama Jackey's school. The students learn to act out traumatic events in their lives through dramatic reenactments. Victor, a teen with a violent past, must reenact a childhood filled with drugs and guns. Mama Jackey says her methods help children find closure.
Tough love is another important part of the program. Mama Jackey insists that all her students—some of whom are reformed criminals—experience life inside a maximum security prison.
In this school, rape victims and rapists live under one roof and learn from each other. Every male student takes a pledge when they arrive at Mama Jackey's school...they vow to never again harm children or women.
Charlie, Kip and Willie raised enough money to pay for their plane tickets to South Africa and left for a 17-day film shoot.
When they arrived at Mama Jackey's school, Willie says the enormity of the project began to sink in. "It never really set in until we got to that school and realized that our cameras weren't charged and our lights weren't ready...and all of a sudden we were making this movie," he remembers.
Finally, Ithuteng was ready, and Gayle passed Mama Jackey's story on to Oprah. After seeing the film, Oprah decided she needed to meet Mama Jackey in person.
The girls Oprah met shared heartbreaking stories of rape and incest. One of Mama Jackey's students told Oprah she was raped by her father when she was only 15 years old. Another girl says that her brother raped her when she was 5 years old. Both girls believe that they are to blame for their sexual assaults. "This is not your fault," Oprah assures the girls.
Then, Oprah offers words of hope. "You can take that pain, and you can turn it into power," she tells one young victim. "You can be one of the most powerful girls Africa has ever known because of your pain."
"They use [pain] as fuel," Kip says. "They used what they went through as their inspiration—as what gave them their strength. Sharing that struggle together is what brought them sort of joy...and it was what helped them move forward."
By sharing personal struggles with their classmates, many of Mama Jackey's students are able to move on and mend their spirits. Oprah says she's still amazed how African children can live through such painful experiences and "still have a vibrancy and a love and a spirit that transcends all of that."
"A determined fight," Charlie says. "That's what we called it."
After the crash that killed Teddy, Charlie says he won't go a day without telling his family, "I love you." This, he says, Mama Jackey taught him. "She says to [her students], 'You tell each other you love each other—and you believe it.' It's not just words. It's this sense of community that has to happen."
Ithuteng is scheduled to air on HBO this fall.