October 29, 2008 / 10:10 PM / 10 years ago

Shakira to lobby Latin presidents on child welfare

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - Latin pop star Shakira, showing she can move more than her hips, will lobby Latin American presidents this week to start a regional project to pump money into children’s health and education.

Colombian pop singer Shakira performs during the "Rock in Rio" music festival in Arganda del Rey, near Madrid July 4, 2008. REUTERS/Juan Medina

The singer will address a summit in El Salvador of Ibero-American leaders, including the presidents of Brazil and her native Colombia, over the need to feed and educate poor children, especially amid a global economic slowdown.

“There are difficult times coming in Latin America. Thousands and thousands of children will die if governments do not organize ways to distribute food during this crisis,” Shakira told Reuters.

“I grew up in the developing world and I have witnessed the lack of opportunities that children have to live with,” she added, speaking by telephone from Miami.

“In a country like mine, when a child is born poor, people die poor. But I’m fascinated by the fact that through education you can transform lives, you can end this cycle of poverty.”

Some 35 million children live in poverty in Latin America with little or no access to proper food and education, Shakira said. Investing in a year of primary education can increase a person’s adult income by up to 20 percent, she added.

Shakira’s hip-swivelling dances and catchy ballads have earned her a huge global following and a string of Grammy awards. She began getting into social issues just a few years into her pop career, starting a Colombian children’s charity called the Pies Descalzos (Bare Feet) Foundation in 1997, named after her breakthrough hit album released a year before.

While celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie have focused on Africa, Shakira uses her fame to make headlines on Latin America, where stubbornly high poverty levels can get overlooked because of healthier overall economic indicators.

Shakira helped launch the Fundacion ALAS (Latin America in Solidarity Action), which is behind the new initiative, and has lobbied British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the U.S. Congress on the need to educate children in poor countries.

“My heart is committed to this cause and it has been there for a long time, since I was 18,” said Shakira, now 31, who has sold some 50 million albums around the world.

“I like to think that I can use my public profile to bring attention to more important issues than my own.”

Her new project will seek funding from organizations like the World Bank and would monitor governments’ efforts closely, although the golden-tressed singer regretted she would not have time to get involved in inspection efforts on the ground.

Editing by Eric Beech

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