Shakira opens her heart to poor children

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Panama City, Panama - Pop diva Shakira and Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Tuesday launched a star-studded foundation to fight child
poverty in Latin America.

Backed by the Colombians and other luminaries of entertainment and finance, the Latin America in Solidarity Action - whose Spanish acronym is ALAS, or "wings" - took flight with a promise to tackle
poverty that kills 350 000 children each year in the region.

Spanish singer Miguel Bose will serve as executive director of the foundation, conceived about a year ago by Shakira, who also heads the Colombia-based non-profit foundation Pies Descalzos, or
Barefoot, which helps the child victims of violence in that South American country. Both Shakira and Garcia Marquez hail from Colombia.

The ALAS promoters said the foundation does not pretend to replace other organisations that work with children or eliminate the obligation governments have to eradicate poverty, but to
strengthen existing efforts.

"We all have to do our part to fight against inequality," Shakira said in a news release issued prior to the launching ceremony at the National Theatre. The foundation will be based in the City of Knowledge, a former US armed forces base near the Panama Canal that already houses academic institutions, high-tech business and non-governmental international organisations.

"Latin America has some devastating statistics," added Garcia, citing the 350 000 children under 5 who die from causes linked to poverty, and the 40 million minors who work in the street.

One of the foundation's programs will provide health and nutritional assistance to pregnant women and children under 2, while a second programme will try to enrol exploited and homeless children in school.

Also attending the event were 20 additional Latin American artists, as well as financial titans including telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, of Mexico, the world's third-richest man.

"The artists are building something different, with a vision and an interest in inclusion," said Nils Kastberg, a representative of Unicef, which also backs the foundation.

The artists plan to hold five musical concerts, starting next year, to collect funds for the foundation.

Other musicians supporting the effort include Ruben Blades, Juanes, Ricky Martin, the rock group Mana, Aleks Syntek, David Bisbal and Alejandro Sanz.