Shakira’s Colombian War

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The Latin pop star on why she’s spending millions on schools in her home country and beyond.

Shakira—born Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll—is intent on making her advocacy work as well-known as her hips. Her cause? Educating impoverished children by building schools and community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods in her native Colombia, and convincing other Latin American leaders to invest in early childhood education…

She knows about deprivation from her own upbringing in the extremely stratified city of Barranquilla, where I also grew up. Located on the Caribbean side of Colombia, nearly 50% of people in this port live under the poverty line. More than 43% of children do not have access to early education, and less than 20% have access to the Internet.

What will happen to those who live in extreme poverty and receive no schooling is predictable in a country with a protracted civil conflict and an economy fueled by drug trafficking: “Being a militant or a drug trafficker are the only options.”…

“If the fastest growing population in this country is Latino, that means we are the future of this country,” she says in pretty fluent English. “And, we have proven we have talent,” she pauses and winks. “Now we need the tools to succeed.” She reminds me that Latinos account for the highest number of high-school dropouts.

Why children and education? Why displaced communities? She responds, “Because I see myself in those children. It’s the same thing that happened to me—at a worse scale.”

By SILVANA PATERNOSTRO – Wall Street Journal

Ms. Paternostro is the author of “My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind” (Holt, 2007).

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