WNBA star siblings Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike have started a new competition. The winner? One million girls in Nigeria, who will be given a quality education and a safe place to learn through a partnership with UNICEF.
"We want to be able to give back to Nigeria, and UNICEF is a great way," Nneka Ogwumike said in a recent phone interview with The Associated Press. "We were blessed with an incredible education that we want to make sure others have an opportunity to have."
Ten million children in Nigeria do not attend school. This number is higher than in any other country in the world. Many families would like to see their daughters receive an education, but fear the violence that would come as a result of sending them to school. The money raised by the Ogwumikes will focus on protection for children who so desperately want an education, as well as finding quality teachers for them.
Female Nigerian students and teachers have been the focus of Islamic extremist attacks who believe a woman's place in the home and they should not be educated. Schools are bombed and set on fire, and the girls are killed or abducted. The most recent occurrence resulted in the abduction of 300 Nigerian girls by the extremist group Boko Haram, which translates to English as "Western education is a sin".
To bring this issue to light on a larger scale, the girls have posted the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on their social media pages. The hashtag, an SOS to the world, has been re-Tweeted more than 3 million times.
"The hashtags, the activism on social media puts pressure on the system," Chiney said. "Other incidents have been happening, but they didn't get the worldwide attention. And this is rightfully what it needs to be. I wish we could have it all the time."
The players hope to make this competition an annual event, in an effort to help more and more girls gain an education and have the ability to support themselves.
"Everyone can do a hashtag, but hashtags don't add value to their lives. How are we going to empower them?"
Of Nigerian descent themselves, the sisters, who are not twins, but two years apart, grew up in a suburb of Houston, Texas, and won a state basketball championship together at Cy-Fair High School when Nneka was a senior and Chiney a sophomore.
First Nneka and then Chiney went on to play at Stanford University. In Nneka's four years, the Cardinal reached the women's Final Four four times. Chiney won another state high school title as a senior, and made the Final Four twice with the Cardinal.
Nneka was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 WNBA draft for the Los Angeles Sparks. Chiney was the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft for the Connecticut Sun.