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International Day of the Girl: Two inspiring stories

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October 11, 2013
Today is International Day of the Girl. And across the world people are coming together to celebrate the achievements of young women and to tackle gender inequality.
 
We are lucky enough at Laureus to witness remarkable things being achieved by outstanding young women at sport for development projects all over the world.
 
And on this special day, as a way of paying tribute to all girls, here are the stories of two truly inspiring young women who have changed their own lives, and the lives of those around them, through sport.
 
Nasiphi was born 25 years ago in South Africa. She was raised by her grandparents.
 
Her grandparents, she explains, instilled in her a deep sense of “values, of principles.” Values, it becomes clear, that helped to define what she wanted to achieve in life over what she saw happening to other young women around her.
 
“People I grew up with, most of them have kids now. Kids 13 years old would get married to older men, just because they felt that’s the only option they have because of the terrible poverty in their lives. Few of us managed to make it to university.
 
“I wanted the life I saw on TV. I wanted to have that. I once said to my mum ‘I will finish my matric [final high school qualification in South Africa] without a child. I will go to university and graduate.”
Now 25, she proudly details the journey that not only saw her get to university but graduate as well.
 
“I don’t know how I did it. I had to work 2, 3 jobs throughout my studies… often going to sleep without food.
“I knew if I didn’t … I’d go straight back to poverty. I couldn’t afford to fail.”
 
It was there at the Durban University of Technology, studying for her degree in sports management, she also started playing basketball full time, something that proved to change the course of her life.
 
“Sport is family. When you play, you have no strangers. Everyone has a common goal… I remember when everything [bad] was going on in my life, the only thing that made me feel better was a basketball in my hand. It was my world.
 
 “I want to be a sport for change agent,” she says, clearly proud of the title she has coined herself. “Laureus is the ultimate in changing the world through sport and that world is the one I want to get involved in, changing lives countrywide, worldwide, through sport.”
 
Gulafsha from Mumbai, India, shares this love of sport with Nasiphi.
Like many of the country’s young women, both Gulafsha’s sisters were married by the age of 15. On reaching puberty, young women in India are often expected to stay at home, unable to make choices about their own futures. Gulafsha also faced the prospect of not being allowed to take part in what she loves most in life: football.
Talking about the situation in her home country, she says: “If you are a girl, parents often won’t let you out of your house to play.”
It was, however, a Laureus-supported football project that helped not only give Gulafsha access to football and play, but also a path in life not bound by the often rigid traditions of her society.
 
Magic Bus, a strategic partner of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, works to combat gender inequality, as well as giving children living in poverty vital opportunities whilst promoting education, health and livelihood.
 
But Gulafsha’s first experience of the project was, aged 10, hearing about her brother’s participation as a youth mentor.
As Gulafsha puts it: “[My brother] had seen other girls play football, so he thought ‘why not my sister?’”
 
He made a plea to his parents to let Gulafsha get involved as well. And his doing so has proved life-changing for the young football-lover, particularly as she was approaching the age at which marriage may have followed.
“I would be next [to marry at 16 like her sisters] but because of all I have done now my mother says ‘let her go and do all that she can do.’
 
 “I am taking what I learn at Magic Bus, working toward gender equality, building confidence,” she says. “This building confidence of women [encourages them to] go for education and a better future. Sport is the medium, and through it we can teach many things.
 
“And if I teach 25 girls, each of them can teach another 25 and so on. Before it was really like girls couldn’t take part in any outside activities, but now the world is changing.”
 
But what do the older students of hers think of taking lessons from a 17-year-old?
 
“It’s like they’re sisters,” she says. “For the younger ones I’m a big sister, for the older ones, a little sister.
“It’s like a family.”
 
 To find out more about the International Day of the Girl, the official website can be found here.