BBC features Shakira: The Heart of Colombia
In the face of a decades-long insurgency, the international singing star Shakira has been back to her roots in Colombia to help disadvantaged children get the education they deserve.
By Rajesh Mirchandani
To travel with multi-million-selling pop star Shakira is to travel behind tinted windows, on private planes and on Shakira time - always at least an hour behind schedule and always stopping for autographs and photos. It involves long waits while she has hair and make-up touch-ups before emerging from cars, planes and buildings.
But at the centre of the superstar entourage is a young Colombian who is disarmingly friendly and passionately eloquent about education. And education was the reason we travelled with Shakira to the north-west border province of Choco, deep in the Colombian jungle. It is remote and poor.
And it's an area devastated by the civil conflict that has ravaged the country for nearly half a century, forcing three million Colombians to flee their homes. We were heading to a school Shakira has funded. She told me: "One-hundred per cent of our kids that we have in our school here have been displaced or have families that have fled their home towns."
Shakira has been here several times and the reaction is always the same: frenzied rapture. She is surrounded by exuberant children as she makes her way down dirty, pot-holed streets, past wooden shacks and open sewers.
But the welcome she gets is not just because she's a famous pop star. In an area of grinding poverty she provides a lifeline.
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Published March 6, 2009