|© UNICEF 2004/Harsha|
|A young girl reads why millions of girls are out of school in South Asia|
By Ziad Sheikh
COLOMBO, 28 July 2004 – Away from the floodlights and the singing choruses of fans at the Asia Cup, some quieter moments were spent reflecting on one of the biggest development challenges facing South Asia and what can be done to help.
Former international cricketers, members of the regional governing body, TV commentators and the tournament’s broadcast team gathered at a UNICEF-hosted reception and photo exhibition in central Colombo to lend their support to the ‘Fair Play for Girls’ education campaign.
With 46 million children out of school in the region, the majority girls, UNICEF is accelerating its efforts through the ‘Fair Play for Girls’ initiative to get more girls into school.
“There’s already been a winner at this year’s Asia Cup: the cause of girls’ education in South Asia,” said Ravi Shastri, former Indian captain and ESPN commentator.
Mr Shastri spoke from personal experiences through his work as National Ambassador for UNICEF India as he appealed to his friends and colleagues in the cricketing world to get involved and do whatever they can to help improve the lives of children. This work has taken him to many primary schools where he has seen what can be achieved when children are given their right to be educated. It’s work that he describes as inspiring and humbling and that can make so much change.
|© UNICEF 2004/Harsha|
|Ravi Shastri makes an appeal on behalf of girls’ education|
Also there calling for more to be done was Syed Ashraful Huq, Chief Executive of the Asian Cricket Council. Last month in Dhaka, the ACC and UNICEF joined together in a new partnership to promote girls’ education and the right to play in the region. The ACC is the region’s cricket governing body and organizers of the Asia Cup. Mr Huq thanked UNICEF for the opportunity to contribute their efforts to empowering the children of South Asia and in turn to developing the region. It’s clear to him how sporting bodies and tournaments like the Asia Cup can help – reaching millions and inspiring others to get involved. Mr Huq sees the ongoing Asia Cup as a great start to what he hopes will be a long and successful relationship.
Yasmin Ali Haque, Programme Coordinator for UNICEF Sri Lanka described the challenges and barriers girls face in getting a quality education – from gender discrimination to long distances between home and school – but how overcoming these barriers will also benefit boys. Ms. Haque also highlighted the need for strong partnerships in addressing the challenge ahead, thanking the ACC for their vision in forging the new alliance.
It was an occasion for UNICEF to thank the cricketing world for their work on behalf of children and to acknowledge how as sporting figures they continue to show the importance of sport and play in children’s lives, especially girls who have fewer opportunities to interact socially.
The Asia Cup final between four times champions India and hosts Sri Lanka takes place on Sunday (August 1, 2004). It’s been girls’ education on and off the field since the tournament began two weeks ago. In the stadiums, fans are wearing t-shirts and stickers and waving cards as they cheer on their teams, all bearing the Fair Play for Girls message. Stadium pitch boards and the broadcast commentary are also helping to spread the message to audiences throughout South Asia and beyond.