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[KAKATA, LIBERIA] US First Lady Michelle Obama told girls in Liberia on Monday to fight to stay in school, as she visited the west African country where the vast majority drop out due to financial pressures.
Mrs Obama launched her "Let Girls Learn" education initiative in March 2015, and has since travelled the globe to call for greater support for the millions of girls kept away from school or forced to abandon their studies.
After being greeted by hundreds of singing children lining the road from Monrovia's airport, Mrs Obama met girls and young women at a project named Glow (Girls Leading Our World) aimed at boosting active citizenship, run by the US Peace Corps in Kakata, east of the coastal capital.
She was accompanied by her two daughters Malia, 17, and Sasha, 15 and her mother, whom she referred to as her "special girl power crew".
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf welcomed the American visitors once they had landed.
Speaking about the value of women's leadership and access to education, the Harvard-trained lawyer said she was "here to shine a big bright light on you."
"I want you to keep fighting and stay in school," she told the girls.
"You are going to be leaders tomorrow; you are going to be mothers; you are educating yourselves to achieve that. That is why I am proud of you," she said to the assembled group.
Her venture has particular poignance in Liberia, where just 37 per cent of 15 to 24-year-old girls are literate, according to UN figures, and enrolment at the secondary level hovers close to 40 per cent, with real participation much lower.
She later discussed the ongoing challenges faced by the young women in this community at a nearby school in Reunification Town, including paying school fees and dealing with "jealous" young men.
The United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) meanwhile announced Monday millions more dollars of funding would be made available to support the Let Girls Learn Initiative's projects.
Sheldon Yett, Unicef representative for Liberia, told AFP many parents see school as a luxury they can ill afford.
"Often families see it as a cost, losing labour by sending children to school," Mr Yett said.
And for female pupils in particular, "roughly half of schools don't even have basic sanitation, so that's a particular issue for girls," he added.
Some 62 million girls around the world, half of them adolescents, are not in school.
Mrs Obama will continue her tour in Morocco on June 28 and 29, accompanied by actress Meryl Streep, to participate in a conversation with adolescent girls.
She will deliver a speech in Madrid on June 30 about the education initiative before meeting Spain's Queen Letizia.