Goodwill Ambassador Shakira reaches out to cyclone survivors in rural Bangladesh
By Zafrin Chowdhury
PATUAKHALI, Bangladesh, 21 December 2007 – Internationally acclaimed singer, musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira travelled to Bangladesh recently and met with women and children whose lives have been affected by Cyclone Sidr.
Shakira visited UNICEF-supported education projects and listened intently to people’s stories of pain and the struggle to rebuild their lives after the disaster.
“I am sorry for what happened to you,” Shakira said to a group of cyclone survivors. “But things are going to get better again. I admire your resilience and your patience and how much you can still give when you have so little for yourselves.”
Listening to children
Shakira spent the first day of her visit in Charkhali, a remote village in Patuakhali District that was once home to 80 families but has since been devastated by the cyclone. More than 70 people were killed during the storm – most of them children and women.
While in Patuakhali, Shakira met with an 11-year-old girl named Neepa in a UNICEF-supported child-friendly centre.
“I recall my father saying to my mother that it seemed we would not survive," Neepa recalled tearfully. "When water started to rise up ... we climbed on top of the roof. Wind blew us to a nearby tree and we spent the entire night holding on to the branches. We started to call out for my mother and father, but they did not respond.”
Neepa lost both parents to the cyclone and now lives with her grandmother. She sang a song relating her grief to Shakira and said that the centre she is attending is the one source of happiness and stability during this difficult time.
“The child-friendly spaces are like oases in the middle of damage and destruction where I have seen children play with each other, sing, dance, read and draw, to unburden the distress inflicted by the disaster,” Shakira said. “The world should focus on creating more of such spaces where children can be children, even in a calamity.”
The opportunities children deserve
The Grammy Award-winning singer from Colombia participated in some of UNICEF’s cyclone response efforts by distributing warm clothes and family kits to women and children.
“I came to Bangladesh to see the impact of the cyclone and to learn about UNICEF’s approach to education,” said Shakira. “We visited a variety of education programmes and became even more convinced that education is a powerful tool to improve people’s lives.”
She also visited several UNICEF-supported education and child protection projects such as a learning centre and a shelter for children at risk. Shakira encouraged children there to keep up the good work and not give up on learning.
“By making a small investment in these children, we can give them the opportunity they deserve and we can build a better, safer world. I am impressed to see the difference UNICEF is making with education and life skills by reaching children with different needs,” Shakira said.