As a young girl in Colombia, I promised myself that, someday, I would help change the lives of the barefoot, desperate children living in the parks around my home. I had the audacity of youth: I remember thinking that every child deserved the opportunity to learn. I also had the clarity of youth: I knew that all children deserved an equal chance.
When I was eighteen, I took the first steps toward keeping my promise. I started the Pies Descalzos ("Bare Feet") Foundation in honor of the barefoot children who inspired me. The Foundation’s mission is to ensure that all children can exercise their right to a quality education and a chance to fulfill their true potential. We provide nutritious meals, quality education and psychological support to more than five thousand students and their families across Colombia.
Education is a right, not a privilege, and we need to treat it that way. Far too often, children who are born poor die poor, trapping too many children in a cycle of despair. Education is the most powerful way to break the cycle. Education affects every aspect of development. Research has shown that access to education increases wages, lowers the risk of disease and decreases the likelihood a child will turn to a destructive violent life. A single year of primary education can increase a girl’s wages by 10 to 20 percent later in life. We cannot possibly hope to thrive as a global community if we continue to turn our backs on the potential and talents of millions of children.
It’s difficult to believe that, in today’s world, 72 million kids don’t have access to any kind of education, and 226 million adolescents don’t attend secondary school. Hundreds of millions who do attend school can’t learn because of inadequate teachers, lack of supplies or empty stomachs.
Our schools in Colombia are proving each and every day that no matter where a child is from, no matter how poor they are, they can thrive if given the chance. The best part of my work is watching students blossom and make something of their lives. Last year, a student from a Pies Descalzos school placed 14th out of the whole country in Colombia’s national exams. He came from extreme poverty and suffered from malnutrition as a child. Today, he’s in college and working to use his education to give back to his community. We have seen that every child has a contribution to share.
Now, we are bringing our model to the U.S. and the rest of the world. Education for every child is within our reach. Let’s make a commitment to the children of the world. Let us tell them -- today -- that we see their value, no matter where they happen to have been born or how difficult their circumstances. Let’s make clear that we believe in them and that through hard work they can improve their lives. Let’s commit to giving them the tools they need to build our future.
Shakira with the students of the Barefoot Foundation
Internationally acclaimed recording artist Shakira is a leading advocate for universal education. Her Pies Descalzos foundation has helped over 28,000 of Colombia’s children access education. Her US-based Barefoot Foundation is expanding her work internationally. Shakira is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and honorary chair of the Global Campaign for Education. She is the 6th highest selling artist of all time and the winner of two Grammys, eight Latin Grammys and countless awards worldwide.