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My 40 Chances: A Lifelong Commitment to Helping Others

Poverty is a subject that touches very close to home for me. Colombia, my country, is second in the world only to Sudan in terms of the highest number of internally displaced people who have fled their homes because of the horrors of conflict. Traveling together in July 2008, my friend Howard G. Buffett and I saw this poverty when we visited Barranquilla, my hometown, and Quibdó, one of Colombia’s poorest areas. The people who live there face the same obstacles as impoverished people worldwide. Most residents of Quibdó do not have even the most basic necessities – clean water, electricity, or nutritious food. And yet, despite the horrific challenges they face every day, they have the same hopes for themselves and their children that we all do. They want their children to grow up to live better, more fulfilled lives as healthy and productive members of society.

The barriers to achieving those hopes are enormous; over a third of the people in our world live on less than $2 a day. Many of these individuals, communities, and nations are affected by the lack of basic human resources such as food and clean water. Almost all of these people live in fragile conditions, full of perpetual suffering, with children affected by poverty the most. And many of the world’s poor children do not attend school. These uneducated young people grow up to become illiterate adults, stunting economic development. Today, more than 770 million people in the developing world are illiterate. Usually in these areas, children who are born poor die poor. But we know how to break this cycle of poverty and unlock a child’s potential: nutrition, water, and education are the keys. When nourished, children are given the opportunity to learn, and we unleash the good in them.

The benefits are clear, and they help us all: education reduces poverty, decreases violence, and lessens gender inequality. A single year of primary education can mean a 10 to 20 percent increase in a woman’s wages later in life. Just imagine the economic growth we could create around the world through education alone, improving the livelihood of millions.

This is why I have dedicated some of my 40 Chances to the Barefoot Foundation, which works to make education available to every child. We started with six schools in Colombia, providing education, nutritious meals, and psychological support for 5,000 children. Since then, we have expanded to Haiti and to South Africa and are reaching a total of 30,000 people. It’s a ripple effect, because healthy and educated children can return to their communities to improve others’ lives too. This is an investment that is guaranteed to pay off.

But there is more to be done, and if we commit ourselves, I know that we can each do more than we first think. Howard and I have since returned to Colombia to launch a new school in Cartagena, and we remain inspired by the opportunities these children now have. I have seen how hard work can break the poverty cycle, if we put our 40 Chances to good use by helping those who need it the most. With a little compassion and creativity, we can each find our own place working with people and communities ridden with poverty, illness, and despair. However you use your 40 Chances, I hope you will commit some of them to helping others make a better world for themselves.

Want to get involved with the Barefoot Foundation? Find out more here.

Shakira