NEW YORK -- Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike have always valued education.
So it's no surprise the Stanford graduates wanted to do something to help educate girls in their parents' homeland of Nigeria. The WNBA stars launched a fundraising competition Wednesday which is open to middle and high school basketball teams across the U.S. The goal is to raise money to support UNICEF programs focusing on girls' education and empowerment.
The hopeful goal is to give 1 million girls in Nigeria access to quality schooling by providing scholarships for female teachers and establishing safe places for girls to learn. The U.S.-born sisters, who became the second set of siblings to be drafted with the No. 1 pick in a major sports league -- joining NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning -- figured they could use their clout to help get it done.
"We want to be able to give back to Nigeria, and UNICEF is a great way," Nneka Ogwumike said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Monday. "We were blessed with an incredible education that we want to make sure others have an opportunity to have."
The recent mass kidnappings of schoolgirls in the African nation have added a sense of urgency to the sisters' desire to help. The pair, who were planning to get involved with UNICEF before the kidnappings, were distraught to hear about the 300-plus girls who were taken in the remote northeast area of Nigeria in April.
"Everyone knows we're Nigerian, and that's a huge part of us and our culture," Chiney Ogwumike said. "To be able to extend our basketball connections to help others is great. The most important thing we can do is help educate people, and we understand that's a lot bigger than what we do on the court."
Since 2012, teachers and students have been increasingly targeted by extremists, resulting in killings, abductions and threats. Many schools have been bombed, set on fire or attacked.
"Nigeria has 10 million children out of school -- the highest number in the world," said Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. "We are grateful that Nneka and Chiney are using their voices to inspire girls across the U.S. to support UNICEF's efforts to provide children in Nigeria with a quality education."
The competition rewards teams that sign up the most donors. The top prize, a private basketball clinic with the sisters.
"The biggest thing we want is for the kids to have fun with it," said Chiney, who was the first pick in this past April's WNBA draft by Connecticut. "Whatever their reason is for getting involved we support it. If you care about meeting Nneka and I, you can get donors. If you care about bringing our girls back, go get donors. If you care about playing basketball and want to do something fun, you can get donors."
Other prizes include autographed jerseys, pictures and the chance to interact with them via Google Hangouts.
"At the end of the day this could be an annual thing that becomes huge and impacts the relief fund we're trying to help," Nneka said.