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Help Girls Across the Globe Go for Gold and Achieve Their Dreams

03/16/2013 12:05 am 00:05:00

This post is part of the Global Mom Relay. Every time you share this blog, $5 will go to women and girls around the world. Scroll to the bottom to find out more.

I am writing this to you from a meeting with 16 Girl Up Teen Advisors from all over the U.S. We're gathering to brainstorm on new ways to share the issues girls face around the world. You can join us, simply by sharing this post and unlocking donations that will benefit the work Girl Up is doing.

My mother, Kinga, came to the United States from a Hungarian community in Romania before my sister and I were born. She sacrificed a lot for us. As a young girl, my mom gave up her time to take me to practice and to swim meets, and she always encouraged me -- win or lose. Because of her my dream of becoming a professional swimmer came true. The best advice my mother ever gave me was to do things your own way. She never came out and said it, but she showed me and reminded me not to worry about what anyone else was thinking or doing. She always encouraged me to follow your heart and succeed.

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I believe that where a girl is born should not dictate how big she can dream.

Around the world, girls may not have the chance to make choices about their lives. It's not always easy to speak up, especially if they live in places where girls are not encouraged to do so.

There are more than 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 in the world today, making up the largest youth generation in history. What happens to girls when they're adolescents significantly shapes their lives as women. As a daughter of immigrants, we didn't watch much television so I was isolated a little from pop culture. That can be hard in high school, but helped me develop my own sense of style and direction. I took that into my swimming. I didn't really follow what was going on in the swimming world. I focused on my own career, my own training, my own times.

I am so proud to be a Champion of the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up campaign. Girl Up is a "for girls, by girls" campaign that mobilizes girls in the United States. These girls are empowered to broaden their minds and help raise funds and awareness for United Nations programs that provide girls in developing countries with the chance to go to school, see a doctor, stay safe from violence, and more. Girl Up is doing great things across the world for so many girls in so many countries.

Take, for instance, the story of Nejat, a 14-year old girl in Ethiopia who is now on her way to achieving her dreams. Because of her physical disabilities, Nejat, the child of blind parents who survive by begging, is vulnerable to abuse. By joining Biruh Tesfa, a program Girl Up has supported, Nejat was able to enter a mentorship program, receive a wheelchair and attend physical therapy. Entering the Biruh Tesfa program changed Nejat's life.

In less than one year, the number of Girl Up Clubs around the country and across the world has grown rapidly to more than 300 in 31 states and 20 countries. There are more than 300,000 Girl Up supporters actively engaged online in the adolescent girl conversation. There are plenty of people who are just like me, ready to stand up for the rights of girls in developing countries.

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People across the United States are joining this growing grassroots movement and taking action to advance the rights of girls around the world. Through virtual conversations -- in the form of online petitions, Twitter chats, and Google Hangouts -- girls are coming together every day, creating a community that advocates for girls globally.

The work of the United Nations and the growing movement to advocate for girls comes down to one truth: girls matter.

There is much to celebrate about the action being taken around the world on behalf of adolescent girls, but there is still much more to be done. Girls continue to fall victim to underage domestic labor, gender-based violence, child marriage and a lack of educational opportunities.

My mother always told me to dream big because I can be whatever I want to be. Now is the time for us to stand alongside the United Nations and take action for girls around the world, so that they too can reach their full potential and achieve their dreams. Join me in celebrating adolescent girls and advocating for their futures.

Each time you share this Global Mom Relay piece on Facebook, Twitter, or Email, or donate $5 or more through clicking on the above graphic, a $5 donation (up to $8,000 per day) will be donated by Johnson & Johnson and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Girl Up. Join us by sharing it forward and unlock the potential for women and children around the globe. For more information, visit www.unfoundation.org/globalmomrelay. The United Nations Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, BabyCenter, The Huffington Post, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the Global Mom Relay, a first-of-its-kind virtual relay with a goal of improving the lives of women and children around the globe.

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