2009 August

Shakira and the Barefoot Foundation in Conde Nast Traveler

Best Trip Ever:
Last February, I went back to Colombia to open a school in one of the neediest neighborhoods in my hometown, Barranquilla. I was overwhelmed with joy to see it filled with students and to know what a difference it will make.

Worst Trip:
There is no such thing. Traveling always gives us the opportunity for the unexpected. It is so enriching to get out of our own small daily routines and open up to what destiny has to offer.

Dream Trip:
A long journey through Latin America. It is such a magical place, where ancient indigenous cultures that existed before America was "discovered remain intact. The painful memory of entire civilizations being crushed and exploited by the Europeans resonates today. This oppression is the root of the huge pockets of poverty that are still there. What can we do? Education is the only way to repair history and injustice.

What impact has travel had on you?
"Through travel you learn that behind all the flags, the different races, and the passports are people who are actually very similar. I have become aware that the world is small, divided only between people and countries that can help and those that need help.

Are you worried that, in light of the economic crisis, giving will decline?
"Sure I'm concerned that donors will give less, but I'm still optimistic. We have to invest in the potential of children for the sake of our collective future. Research shows that a single year of primary education creates a 10 to 20 percent increase in a woman's wages later in life. It lowers the risk of disease and decreases the likelihood that a child will turn to a destructive, violent life.

Most celebrities don't throw themselves into philanthropy the way you have. Why do you do it?
"As a little girl growing up in Colombia, I remember watching the homeless children in the park near my house and seeing that they had no chance in life. I promised myself that I would do something to help them.

Is your foundation making a difference?
"Pies Descalzos [Bare Feet], which supports education in Colombia's poor neighborhoods, has grown in the last ten years to six schools. Last year, one of our students, Hector Horacio, placed fourteenth in national exams. Now, the U.S.-based Barefoot Foundation is taking our program to other parts of the world.

You also founded ALAS (América Latina en Acción Solidaria) to help children in Latin America, with the backing of the region's wealthiest tycoons.
"We want to ensure that every president in Latin America commits to childhood development.

There are 35,000 homeless children in Colombia. Why?
"Because of political turmoil and drug trafficking, Colombia has more internally displaced people than any country in the world except Sudan and Iraq. Up to 70 percent of displaced children don't return to school because they have to support their families. We've helped more than 2,500 kids to stop working.