Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Hips (and Numbers) Don't Lie

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Hips (and Numbers) Don't Lie

Article excerpt

THE FIRST TIME I REMEMBER SINGING WAS AS a five-year-old on the way to the beach. Going to the beach is almost sacred- you have to go to the beach every Sunday when you live in a coastal town in Colombia. My parents commented on my very special voice. That's when I became aware of it.

Looking back, I'm proud that I've been able to make a difference so that the smallest voices-the voices of our children- have a chance to be heard. Artists can reach, inspire, and motivate young people and leaders in a powerful way.

Music has given a voice to many. We, as artists, can be a part of creating a better world. But I am also very concerned with the creation of partnerships with grass-roots groups, the private sector and government leaders. It doesn't matter if you are a musician, a business leader, a president or a student. We all have a responsibility to give back. That's why I believe so strongly in early childhood development.

The first years of life are crucial in the development of a human brain. Advances in neuroscience are revealing striking discoveries about how early experiences in the first five years can have a huge impact on the developing brain of a child and repercussions that can span a lifetime. For example, in the early years, 700 to 1,000 new neural connections form every second.

I just gave birth seven months ago, so to me this information is astonishing. This is the moment when we want to be doing things right for a baby, because as we get older, the brain loses plasticity and it becomes more difficult to change its architecture.

Thus, we have a very, very small window to affect a child's life and his future.

We need to provide children with the proper care, nutrition and stimulation in the first five years, because it's proven that children who benefit from Early Childhood Development programs do better in school and later in life, as opposed to kids who don't have that advantage and are then more likely to have severe learning difficulties, lack attentiveness, and have less ability to interact well with others.

And unfortunately, the disadvantage can be especially drastic when a child is exposed to violence, because it affects the development of the brain and can cause aggressive behavior later in the adult.

As a person who comes from a country marked by violence, and civil and social strife, I've seen this firsthand. Sadly in Colombia, like in many other developing countries, if one is born poor, one is destined to die poor.

This lack of social mobility is due in part to education being perceived as a luxury instead of a right; people don't have access to equal opportunities and this perpetuates the cycle of poverty and unrest.

In the schools my Barefoot Foundation has set up in Colombia, the role of early childhood development is seen as vital for the kids to complete their education successfully. Many of our students had been victims of violence or have lost family members, so you can imagine the obstacles we encountered that ranged from behavior issues to problems of basic infrastructure to malnourishment.

In order to overcome many of these difficulties, we had to find creative solutions such as school feeding programs, parent and teacher training, and psychosocial support for the children and community at large.

We now have six schools in Colombia; in Barranquilla, we have 2,000 students and in Cartagena, 1,800.

We've been able to have an impact on more than 60,000 people, virtually eliminated malnutrition and child labor, local gangs have disbanded, and we were able to commit the government to do its part by bringing electricity and potable water to the area, as well as paving roads.

However, it has been a process of trial and error, and we had a hard time, a really hard time keeping kids in school, because they had never received adequate care and nutrition, so that's when we realized that we were getting to these children too late. …

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