Maria Sharapova, tennis star and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador made a personal contribution of US $250,000.00 to expand a UNDP-supported programme that provides sports and physical activities for youth in the area affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
A report from the 2005 Chernobyl Forum, involving eight specialized UN agencies and the governments of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine, found that although the health-related effects of the disaster have cleared up, poverty and diseases related to alcohol, smoking, stress and poor diets remain serious threats to people living in the region.
Sharapova said that despite the challenges, “I’ve seen progress in Gomel and kids with a great potential to do even more. What they need is to work hard and believe in themselves. Having supported health and education initiatives, I am very happy to start contributing on sports and physical activities that promote healthy lifestyles.”
The family of Sharapova, 23, fled Gomel a year before she was born because of radiation concerns in the wake of the accident, which exposed more than eight million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia to radiation.
Sharapova made the announcement during a two-day visit, where she saw first hand a number of youth-focused projects financed by UNDP and the Maria Sharapova Foundation. She also met with the 2009 winners of a UNDP/Maria Sharpova Foundation scholarship programme for students coming from the contaminated Chernobyl regions, and played tennis with young Byelorussians.
Antonius Broek, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, said: “Support from citizens like Sharapova mean a lot to the local population and to the international organizations working in the region. These contributions go a long way towards supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals at the local level”.
Aside from the projects in Belarus, Sharapova’s foundation supports initiatives in the Russian Federation and in Ukraine.
Sharapova was appointed a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2007. Her role is to support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, with an emphasis on promoting the recovery of Chernobyl-affected areas. Other UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors include soccer stars Ronaldo of Brazil, Zinédine Zidane of France and Didier Drogba of Cote d’Ivoire.