Colombian singer Shakira, who was awarded a medal by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for her work to promote social justice and the advancement of children worldwide, says she has followed Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim.
In her remarks, the singer said on Wednesday: “Gandhi used to say ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ and I’ve followed that maxim.” Shakira thanked the ILO for the prize and dedicated it to all children suffering from violence and extreme poverty, which is the focus of her Barefoot Foundation.
That non-profit organisation takes its name from the recording artist’s first album and is devoted to ensuring that education is universally available to every child. Its Colombian partner, the Pies Descalzos Foundation, works to assist vulnerable children affected by population displacement in the Andean nation, providing them with nutritious meals, education and psychological-support services.
Dressed in black high-heeled boots, jeans, a grey T-shirt and a black jacket, Shakira’s dress colours contrasted with the hundreds of red T-shirts worn by children and adults who packed the room where the award ceremony was held. The T-shirts bore the slogan “Social Justice for Peace” in honour of World Day on Social Justice, which was celebrated Wednesday.
The award was handed out by ILO Director-General Juan Somavia who said: “Your friend (82-year-old Colombian novelist Gabriel) Garcia Marquez maintains that ‘sometimes wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good’; that didn’t happen with you.” Somavia said that “Shakira is an example to follow and an inspiration for all of us.”
“Your youthful wisdom and social consciousness were put to good use very early on. You resolved to be a catalyst for change, to help children escape the grip of poverty through education, to bring back dreams and hope to lives scarred by the trauma of violence and displacement,” he added.
The Colombian responded that she has simply been able to fulfill a dream she has had since she was a young girl: to be able to help the street children of her native Barranquilla who were suffering great hardship and lacked the same privileges she did. “Investing in a child means investing in our collective future. A child who receives quality education, nutrition and care early in life will have higher earnings, better health, stronger relationships and higher productivity throughout his or her life as an adult,” Shakira said.
She said witnessing extreme poverty as a girl “shaped my dream and my vision of social justice: to see a world where every child can live a dignified life with the opportunity to reap the benefits of a good education and a chance to pursue their dreams”.