Jennifer Heil’s work with Because I am a Girl

How Canadians, including Olympian Jennifer Heil, are lending a hand to those in developing countries

Jennifer Heil's work with Because I am a Girl

Source: Best Health magazine, October 2013; Image: Plan Canada

Jennifer Heil, an Olympic medallist in freestyle mogul skiing and a Plan Canada ambassador, recently met a huge personal goal. Just over three years after she began fundraising for Because I am a Girl, a Plan Canada initiative working to end gender inequality and support girls’ rights worldwide, Heil met her goal of raising $1 million. ‘When I heard that, I did a happy dance. Being a skier in a male-dominated sport, and having struggled with self-confidence, made me want to help girls maximize their potential.’ Heil recalls seeing the program in motion’a class full of girls in Burkino Faso in 2008. ‘They said they want to be doctors and lawyers, and one wanted to be prime minister of her country. The fact they could have such large dreams because they’d now be educated really moved me.’

According to Paula Roberts, Plan Canada’s executive vice-president in marketing and development, more than 380,000 women and girls will benefit from the funds Heil raised. ‘That money has been focused on education and economic development, particularly in Rwanda, Tanzania and Burkina Faso. It has helped build schools, playgrounds and water collection facilities, and has enabled scholarships for girls,’ says Roberts.

October 11 marks the second annual International Day of the Girl, which is officially recognized by the United Nations.

The facts of life for many girls

‘ 70 percent of the world’s 1.4 billion people living in poverty are girls and women.
‘ Girls are three times as likely to suffer from malnutrition in the developing world.
‘ 1,400 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth, making this the leading cause of death of 15- to 19-year-old girls.
‘ 66 million girls are missing from primary and secondary school around the world.

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Top image: Jennifer Heil with Plan Canada in Rwanda, August 2011.

This article was originally titled "Stand up for girls" in the October 2013 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!