December 8, 2009.- Pop superstar Shakira and the World Bank have joined their voices to support expanding early development opportunities for Latin American children.
The acclaimed Colombian singer and the Bank confirmed their partnership at the Ibero-American Summit in Estoril, Portugal, where she also got the attending presidents behind her drive to set up region-wide Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs which, experts say, are key to fully develop a child’s intellectual potential.
Currently, very few Latin American countries have such programs and Shakira went to Estoril looking for support in developing an ECD regional strategy. Her efforts were fruitful: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, as well as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Earth Institute, pledged their commitment to this initiative. In turn, Shakira –who heads the pro-child ALAS and Pies Descalzos foundations – renewed her promise to become an ambassador for Latin American children and to promote analytical work in support of this initiative.
Shakira said it was possible to break Latin America’s cycle of poverty if governments protect children.
“Education is to human life what foundations are to houses, and that’s why we have come to form a great partnership for early infancy”, said the singer, as she recalled that 35 million children in the region lack education and hundreds of thousands die every year as a result of preventable maladies such as chronic malnutrition.
Early childhood development is an issue close to the World Bank’s heart. The institution leads the field of research and implementation of early childhood development programs, and is currently advising several countries on setting up national policies around this topic –among them Chile’s Crece Contigo model program.
“Shakira has a lot of convening power, conviction and passion with regards to early childhood development being fundamental not only in molding youngsters that are capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century, but will also contribute to closing the region’s social gap”, said World Bank regional vice president, Pamela Cox, who met with the singer in Estoril.
Cox added that “for our part, we have been providing technical experience on this issue in order to put it at the top of the regional agenda.”
Early development in children, even prior to birth, is critical for their future, according to experts. Neuroscientific research indicates that infants are not born with all their cognitive abilities and that their brains continue to develop after birth, which make nutrition and educational development critical during their first six years of their lives, according to Emiliana Vegas, education specialist at the World Bank and author of The Promise of Early Childhood Development, whose Spanish-language edition will be promoted by Shakira.
“Comprehensive interventions in the areas of health, nutrition and cognitive stimulus from the moment a mother conceives a child up until their first years of age make an enormous difference to the course of a person’s life”, said Vegas.
Additionally, there is an economic argument in favor of this theory –states Vegas- , as it would be more profitable to invest during the child’s early stages than later on, when, for instance, they might underperform at school as a result of lack of stimulus or good nutrition.
The next Ibero-American Summit takes place in Argentina in 2010 and Shakira has already managed to get the issue of early infancy, their rights and needs, into that meeting’s agenda.