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DHAKA (Reuters) - Grammy Award-winning musician Shakira appealed on Wednesday to the world community to help rebuild schools in cyclone-devastated Bangladesh.
Shakira, a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) ambassador, arrived on a three-day visit to Bangladesh on Monday and toured several coastal villages.
She chatted to children who lost parents and mothers who lost children or spouses.
"The world should give a helping hand to rebuild schools in Bangladesh," twice Grammy Award-winner Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll told Reuters in an interview.
" ... because schools are the only place where children can pass happy moments forgetting all their saddest parts of life."
Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh on November 15 with winds of 250 kph (155 mph) and a 5 meter (16 ft) sea surge that battered large parts of the coast. Nearly 3,500 people died and millions have been left homeless.
"I rushed to Bangladesh when I came to know that some 3,000 schools were damaged in the cyclone," Shakira said.
The storm also destroyed crops and infrastructure worth more than $2 billion. It is the worst disaster to hit the impoverished South Asian country since 1991, when a storm killed about 140,000 people.
"I will never forget the faces of mothers who lost their children and the children who lost their parents," she said.
She recalled how a mother named Shahnaj told of her children dying in her arms during the storm surge in a village named Charkhali, about 350 km (220 miles) south of Dhaka.
"It was the saddest part in my life listening to all this ordeal faced by the mothers and children," Shakira said.
She also visited UNICEF-sponsored education programs for children in northern Rajshahi city on Tuesday.
"Schools will help them to know about AIDS and HIV, their individual rights and help transform the society," she said.
Shakira left Bangladesh on Wednesday evening under tight security.
Reporting by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by David Fogarty