My Generation: The girl who taught the world

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WASHINGTON -- On the second annual International Day of the Girl Oct. 11, some Washington area girls had the chance to listen to a superstar among girls: Pakistani 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai.

About five years ago, Malala began speaking out about educating girls in Pakistan. The Taliban, a group that controls part of that country, is against girls going to school. A member of the Taliban shot Malala last year, but she survived and continues to spread her message.

"Malala talked about how getting girls education would pretty much change the world," Jillian Murray, a junior at Georgetown Visitation, said in a phone interview after the event. "The only thing holding them back was their lack of opportunity for an education."

Jillian and the other girls are part of Girl Up, a program created by the United Nations Foundation. It encourages middle and high school girls to raise money for and awareness about the problems teenage girls face in poor countries.

"That's typically when bad things that happen to girls happen," Girl Up director Melissa Hillebrenner said. "We wanted to engage girls who can relate to that. They know what it's like to be 13. ... They know what they want for their lives in the U.S., and there's this overwhelming feeling that it's not fair" for girls who don't have those opportunities.

There are 19 Girl Up clubs in the Washington area and more than 350,000 members worldwide. Since September 2010, nearly $3 million has been raised. The money goes to help girls in Guatemala and in Ethiopia, Malawi and Liberia, which are all in Africa.

"What we try to do with Girl Up is focus on five key issues," Ms. Hillebrenner said. "Access to education is central."

The other four target areas are providing girls access to health care; keeping them safe from violence; giving them opportunities to be leaders; and making sure they have documents such as birth certificates.

In Washington, Jillian, 16, and sister Meghan, 15, listened as Malala told her story. Both girls said that hearing Malala speak made them thankful.

"I just think that we take a lot of the things we have at Visitation ... for granted," Jillian said. "She doesn't have any of those things. So many of those girls don't have what we take for granted every day."

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First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


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