SEATTLE — Shakira Mebarak is best known by only her first name for her dazzling musical career in the United States and Latin America. She has been showered with accolades from two continents. However, when the pop star steps off the stage, she is incredibly invested in humanitarian endeavors, starting with education in Colombia.
In 1997, she created Colombia-based Fundacion Pies Descalzos and, more recently, U.S.-based Barefoot Foundation, in an effort to improve global education. These two separate, but similar, organizations refer to Shakira’s 1996 album “Pies Descalzos, Sueños Blancos,” or “Bare Feet, White Dreams,” as well as recognizing children in poverty who cannot afford shoes.
Pies Descalzos focuses on education in Colombia while the Barefoot Foundation expands to global efforts. The need for education, especially at the early primary level, is significant; UNICEF estimates that over 120 million children lack formal teaching. Colombia, in addition to being Shakira’s home country, has the highest amount of internally displaced people of any Latin American country, thus is a great place for the star to focus her work.
Since she became a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador in 2003, Shakira has used her fame and resources to passionately advocate for comprehensive early childhood education. In a press conference back in September, the singer issued a call to action for global leaders to prioritize early childhood education for refugees.
She said, “children’s basic needs, such as care, nutrition and stimulation, need to be a priority, need to become a priority over any other human investment.” Shakira is incredibly involved in her foundation; she personally visits many of the schools her foundation supports and is always seen engaging the children.
The results of her efforts are impressive. The Barefoot Foundation’s website boasts helping 2,500 displaced children return to school and supporting six Colombian schools to benefit 30,000 children.
The foundation also works in Haiti and Africa, and has assisted at least 67,000 children across all locations. Just last year, Barefoot Foundation worked with Pies Descalzos, UNICEF and other organizations to reopen a Haitian girls vocational school, Ecole Elie Dubois, decimated during the earthquake in 2010.
Shakira’s commitment to improving education in Colombia and the rest of the world is incredibly admirable. When asked about her humanitarian efforts, she has said “I wanted to become relevant. I always felt that I could make a change, a difference, even if it was a small difference, I knew that I could do something.” Her impact, as well as the work of all the foundation’s volunteers and supporters has been anything but small and deserves recognition.
– Jeanette I. Burke