There is a United Nations “girlafesto” that says, “I am a girl….I am me. I follow. I lead. I learn. I teach. I change my clothes, my hair, my music and my mind. I have a voice that speaks, ideas to stand on, and a world to step up to.”

The empowering message of the “girlafesto” came alive for hundreds of area adolescents and teens who attended the United Nations Foundation Girl Up pep rally hosted at the THEARC in Southeast D.C., which is the first stop on the campaign’s national tour.

Girl Up is a national campaign that mobilizes American girls to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs targeted towards meeting the needs of girls in African countries Malawi, Liberia, Ethiopia and South America’s Guatemala.

In the spirit of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Girl Up launch brought together Estelle, a Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter; Nigel Barker, a judge on “America’s Next Top Model” and Alana Beard, a member of the WNBA’s Mystics.

“American girls take a lot for granted. They need to travel. Get a passport and see another perspective on life,” London-born Estelle told the AFRO. “The first step to helping other girls in other countries would be by joining Girl Up.”

Adorned in purple, pink and blue, the rally offered hands-on activities and even a female dee jay that spun inspirational jams by female artists.

As Jill Scott’s “Golden” echoed from the speakers, droves of girls bounced from a surreal passport booth to informational booths that shared issues girls from around the world face.

“These girls have dreams to be educated just like I do but are not afforded the opportunity,” said Erica Lamberson, a high school senior and one of the 17 Girl Up teen advisors that represent cities from around the nation. “These girls face so many obstacles. They have to walk miles to get clean water. Some are married off as teenagers because the families cannot afford the economic burden.”

Lamberson attends Schools Without Walls Senior High Schools and isn’t bashful when it comes to educating her peers about the struggles some “600 million adolescent girls” in developing nations experience. According to the high school senior, gender discrimination and limited health care access are only some of the disparities impoverished girls may face. But Barker implored the young women and men in attendance to be more proactive in ending social inequities.

“Girl up and man up,” an energetic Nigel Barker told the crowd of teenage girls. “Everyone has the power to make a difference. As a father, I believe fathers must have better dialogue with their daughters. We must change the past injustices and make a difference in our daughters and girls lives.”

According to the United Nations Foundation, a donation of $5 can provide school supplies, health checkups, clean water, keep them safe from violence and support for girl centers in their communities. In addition it can help families purchase goats and hens to “serve as incentives to keep their girls in school.”

Lamberson is passionate about girl issues and believes American girls should take greater interest in helping other young women around the world.

“I could not imagine walking miles to get water for my family. I could not imagine not going to school,” Lamberson said as she stared at a photo of an Ethiopian girl. “I want to go to college, maybe for architecture. These girls have the same dreams, too.”

For more information on Girl Up visit www.GirlUp.org.

Brandi Forte

Special to the AFRO