Shakira with students of the Barefoot Foundation in Colombia
12/05/2012 at 10:00 AM EST
was 8 when her parents taught her what life was like for the most vulnerable people in her native Colombia. Visiting an impoverished area, "I saw kids living on the street, running around barefoot and sniffing glue," says the singer. "I made a promise to myself that I would become successful and do everything in my power to help those kids."
She has turned that vow into a second calling. Launched 17 years ago, her Pies Descalzos Foundation (and its U.S. counterpart, Barefoot Foundation) will open its seventh school and community center in Colombia next fall. The foundations provide education and nutrition to about 6,000 kids, plus jobs and resources for 30,000 others.
"Last year some of our students had among the highest placements on standardized tests in the country – and we are talking about kids who are the children of families displaced by violence and conflict," says Shakira, 35, who also supports projects in Haiti and South Africa. "There is nothing more gratifying than seeing a child who could have been recruited into drug trafficking or guerrilla warfare not only graduating from high school but excelling throughout and now preparing for university."
"That includes David Rueda, 17, who graduates this month. Going to college, he says, is "something that my parents or brothers and sisters couldn't [do]." Shakira hopes to pass on her commitment when she and soccer star Gerard Piqué, 25, welcome a baby next year. "I want my child to grow up in a fair and just world," she says, "knowing he too can be an agent of change."
The 55th Annual Grammy Awards air Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.