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US Organization Helps Girls Build Self Esteem

Girls aged 8 to 13 are encouraged to stay in physical shape
Girls aged 8 to 13 are encouraged to stay in physical shape

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Deborah Block

An organization in the United States is helping girls maintain a healthy lifestyle and build self esteem.  Girls on the Run uses running to encourage girls from 8 to 13 to stay in physical shape.  The group also holds after school sessions where girls learn positive behavior.  

Nine year old Ela Kalra is taking part in Girls on the Run at Washington International School.  

"It's really fun and it teaches you about self respect and how you should care for others and what you should feel about yourself," Kalra said. "You shouldn't be mean or unkind to anybody else."

Ela is among 60,000 girls in 45 states who are participating in the 10-week program.  They also learn about nutrition, and how to be more assertive.

Molly Barker, a runner, founded Girls on the Run in the southern state of North Carolina.  She says the girls discuss what she calls, "the girl box," society's definition of how girls should look, act and feel.  She's critical of it.  

"There's a certain appearance a girl should have, there's a certain way she should address people and act, and even in educational roles, girls tend to shrink to the back of the classroom," Baker said.

Barker says the girls learn that instead of trying to fit into the stereotypes, they should be themselves.  The girls discuss developing positive behavior, such as caring about others, and avoiding negative behavior like bullying.

At this recreation center in Washington DC, Autumn Saxton-Ross is a Girls on the Run coach.

"When you're in a group, and you're this age, you don't realize that picking on someone, or calling someone a name, or singling them out, can be considered bullying," Saxton-Ross said. "What we really want to teach them is to recognize these behaviors."

Each group takes part in a service project.  The girls at Washington International School are running and taking donations for a Washington-based group, Girls Gotta Run Foundation.  The money is used to buy shoes for girls in Ethiopia who are training to be professional runners. And it also helps keep them in school.

Ashley Griffith is on the foundation's board of directors.

"Many of these girls, before Girls Gotta Run came into the picture, didn't even have shoes," she said. "One of them had a story that she had to get up at five o'clock in the morning to borrow her brother's shoes in order for her to get her run in."

Mahelete Yared from Ethiopia has a daughter in Girls on the Run at the International School.  She says the money for the Ethiopian runners will help them achieve their dreams.

"In Ethiopia it's very difficult to have bigger dreams and really believe they will ever come to completion," Yared said.

Girls on the Run is in its 14th year.  Coach Saxton-Ross says the program gives girls the tools to be future leaders.

"It speaks to all girls, regardless of what your house looks like, regardless of what your neighborhood looks like, regardless of what you look like," Saxton-Ross said.

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