Shakira grieves with Sidr-hit children.

Renowned singer Shakira comforts 11-year-old Sidr-orphan Nipa hearing the child's ordeal during her Monday's visit to cyclone-hit areas in Patuakhali. Courtesy: Unicef

Renowned singer Shakira comforts 11-year-old Sidr-orphan Nipa hearing the child's ordeal during her Monday's visit to cyclone-hit areas in Patuakhali. Courtesy: Unicef

It is hard to imagine celebrities being emotional. Let alone global mega pop stars. But, when Colombian singer and songwriter Shakira sat in a Dhaka hotel visibly shaken from her visit to Sidr-hit areas, it is easy to understand why she was chosen as a Unicef goodwill ambassador.

Speaking to The Daily Star after returning from the daylong tour, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll passionately recalled her experience in the cyclone-hit areas, often pausing to sigh and reflect between sentences.

“She sang to me a song of grief. It was a beautiful song in Bengali…It said, ‘Mother, wherever you are, write to me’. I will never forget her voice,” Shakira recalled the moments she spent with Nipa, an 11-year-old girl left orphan by Sidr, in Patuakhali.

But, like so much of what she stands for, Shakira also found hope. “Amid all this calamity, sadness and grief, I saw kids playing, singing and smiling in this semi-destroyed school. It was like an oasis…of relief,” she said, speaking about Child Friendly Spaces, an institution where children traumatised by the deadly cyclone’s devastation spend their days playing and learning.

“This made me think more than ever that the world should focus on providing these safe spaces where the children can grow healthy up in places away from trouble, at least for a few hours,” she said, her eyes beaming with the audacity of such hope.

“Where children can be children, play and sing. It’s much more than learning, it’s a place where children can socialise and communicate with children,” she said.

“I loved hearing the kids say they dream about becoming doctors and nurses…They all had positive dreams. That’s what I want to leave Bangladesh knowing some of these kids will be given the opportunity to accomplish their dreams,” she said, wishing to see the results when she again visits Bangladesh.

Still coming to terms with what she had seen in the southern part of the country, Shakira said, “I was devastated to see that entire villages were wiped away. Everything they had was gone…that touched me. The loss of so many human lives…I will never forget the faces of the mothers who lost their children.

“Bangladesh and its people need attention, international attention from governments, NGOs and regular people as well,” she said.

The Unicef goodwill ambassador had already planned on visiting Bangladesh but brought the visit forward after seeing the damage caused by cyclone Sidr. As part of her wider plans, she visited a Unicef project in Rajshahi where “hard-to-reach-children” spend days in centres away from the streets.

Shakira has been working with children since she was 18 when she built a foundation called Pies Descalzos, meaning “bare feet” in Spanish.

The seeds of inspiration had been sown a decade earlier at the age of eight. Her father was bankrupt and her family just lost most of what they had.

Her father used to take her to a park in the more run-down part of the town, where she found kids sniffing glue and was shattered by the sight of their hardship. “From that point I decided I will do something to help them one day,” Shakira recalls.

“I always felt very committed to review the issues that children face, maybe because I grew up in a country like Colombia, where children face the same problems like children in Bangladesh and elsewhere,” she said.

“Children are the most vulnerable population in the world and at the same time they are our only hope for a safer world,” she said, adding, “We are all concerned about a better future and a more secure place for our children, our children’s children and for us.”

Any attempt to question that commitment is quickly foiled by a well-prepared, sharply honed answer when she was pressed on how she deals with the fact that in a few months she will be singing in a glitzy concert when the children here will still be struggling with their daily lives.

“I guess it’s using that spotlight that shines on me during that concert and moving it away from me to put on the issues that need that attention. This is what I can do in my own small way,” Shakira was unhesitant in her reply.

She feels this is a commitment to a broader movement, a collective call of the time and her generation.

“I’m sure my generation is not willing to tolerate any more of the brutalities in these countries. We are tired of it. In the next years, my generation will have the power and it’s not little. So, it’s a great power that we have to communicate and that’s why I’m part of the social issues,” she said passionately.

The 30-year-old feels that the passion is shared by others of her generation. “I can do things in a very small way in the community of young people who want to do something about all this. These little things make great changes.”

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1 Comment

  1. I am very glad to see a personality and celebrity like Shakira is helping poor people of Bangladesh who are suffering poverty and cyclone or other type of disasters.


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