Sharapova bound for Belarus to visit UN projects helping youth after Chernobyl disaster

09:37, June 25, 2010      

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The tennis star and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador Maria Sharapova is scheduled to head from the Wimbledon tournament, where she is currently competing, to Belarus to visit an area in the southeast affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, UN officials said Thursday.

Sharapova, 23, is expected to travel to the Gomel region, where her charitable foundation has helped fund several UNDP projects focused on providing opportunities for youth and improving their communities, the officials said.

The three-time Grand Slam champion from Russia is slated to visit a local arts center where children work on projects to beautify the town and learn about the environment, tour a health facility that takes a therapeutic approach to treating emotional and mental stress, and meet students who have won university scholarships from her foundation.

Sharapova, whose family fled Gomel a year before she was born because of radiation concerns in the wake of the nuclear accident, said she wanted to contribute to the recovery of a region where she had such a personal connection.

"Giving young people the tools they need to reach for their dreams is a good way to overcome the Chernobyl legacy," she said. "Helping people help themselves is at the heart of UNDP's mission, and I am eager to see the results first-hand."

The Sharapova Foundation, in partnership with UNDP, supports seven youth-oriented projects and a scholarship program in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine that were affected by the Chernobyl accident.

"Maria Sharapova's work in this region will convey a message of optimism to young people, in a once-blighted region, where a return to normal life is now a realistic project," said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

Sharapova, who won the Wimbledon women's singles crown as a teenager in 2004, on Thursday won her second-round match at the tournament, which will conclude at the end of next week.



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