Long after the bright lights of March Madness dimmed, 24 female athletes from Liberia, Lithuania, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela are taking home memories and lessons of their time in the United States to pay it forward to women and girls in their countries.
As part of the State Department's global efforts to empower women and girls, these young athletes were fortunate to meet the likes of Baylor's Brittney Griner and Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings and see the top women's basketball teams in the country compete for a national championship.
While they may swoon over the stars they met, it will be the lessons of Title IX -- of opportunity and equality -- that they will propel them forward on the field, in the classroom and in society once they return home.
One of these emerging athletes is Dagces Goodridge of Liberia. The 15-year-old is in the 11th grade and has played basketball for three years. Here, she shares her thoughts on her first trip to the United States, the status of sports for women and girls in Liberia and how she has learned to love the game of basketball:
On coming to the United States
"This is my first trip [to the United States] and WOW! It's so nice! I don't even have words to describe it. [I was coming to the U.S.] for training and playing basketball with other teams. It's so fun! We went shopping, we played games other than basketball. We met people in different programs apart from basketball. I'm having fun. Here, I made new friends and I understood what it's like to be friends with other people ... it's teamwork."
Status of sports for women and girls in Liberia
"Sports for girls in Liberia, it's not so good. A lot of girls like basketball, but because of the financial status ... we don't have enough stuff in our country, so it's hard. As for football, it's hard. People start talking to you like, 'You're going to be ugly like a man if you play that sport.' So, for girls in my country, sport is not good. People pay more attention to boys than girls when it comes to sports. My dad is tall and he has two basketball teams, so he encourages me every day."
For love of the game
"I love basketball because I'm tall; I have the height for basketball. I got a lot of encouragement from my friend's family. I was this tall and they said, 'Are you playing basketball? You have good height, you could play basketball and make money.' And I said, 'Well, I don't like it.' But, I started playing and now I like basketball -- it makes me happy. Even though I hate losing, when I'm on the court, I'm happy playing with other people. Even though they may beat me, I have to shake their hands; I have to do it. When I am in college -- like 20 or 21 -- through sports, I'm going to empower other people. We are strong women for a better world, and I'm going to empower other people to make a better world!"
Here are photos from the girls' trip to the Final Four in New Orleans:
The Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative was launched in 2012 by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. So far, it has engaged over 4,000 women and girls in more than 70 countries worldwide. Built on the core belief that empowering women and girls is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do, this initiative aims to increase women and girls' participation in sports. The cornerstone of this effort is the State Department and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, which works to engage, inspire and empower a new generation of women and girls through sports.