The tennis star and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador Maria Sharapova announced today that she is donating $210,000 to an initiative that will offer scholarships to youth from regions of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.
Announcing the joint initiative between UNDP and her private foundation, Ms. Sharapova noted her own connection to the issue – she was born in 1987 after her family fled Belarus for Siberia because of concerns about radiation in the wake of the Chernobyl accident.
“It has always been my dream to contribute to the recovery of a region where I have a personal connection,” she said, according to a UNDP press release. “Enabling talented young people to pursue higher education is part of a broader effort to build a brighter future for the region.”
The Maria Sharapova Foundation will award 12 students five-year scholarships to study at two leading universities in Belarus. Working with UNDP, which coordinates the UN’s work on Chernobyl and implements recovery projects in Belarus, the first scholarship recipients will begin their studies in September 2009.
UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis warmly welcomed the alliance. “UNDP is honoured to count Maria Sharapova among its Goodwill Ambassadors,” he stated. “Her engagement helps to convey a message of optimism to young people in a once-blighted region where a return to normal life is now a realistic prospect.”
UNDP implements programmes to encourage economic and community development across the region, based on scientific findings that indicate radiation is below negative health-affecting levels.
Ms. Sharapova has previously donated $100,000 to youth-oriented projects implemented by UNDP in Chernobyl-affected regions.