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Shakira's biggest hit

Over the past two decades, Shakira's Barefoot Foundation has helped build six new schools in Colombia, as well as funding one in Haiti and another in South Africa.

CBS News

Pop star Shakira, a Latin American sensation with fans around the world, is known in her native country of Colombia not just for her chart-topping singles, but also for how she spends her money -- working to help the country's poorest children. Our Lee Cowan followed her home to South America, where she unveiled one big surprise.

This story was originally broadcast on March 23, 2014.

She's sensual with a capitol S . . . a mainstream star with Latin roots who can bend where most of us just don't.

Those hips (from "Hips Don't Lie") made Shakira famous enough that she doesn't need a last name. And her unique mix of worldly rhythms has made her a true crossover sensation.

She was eight years old when she wrote her first song: "Yeah, I was quite dramatic," she told Cowan. "I was in love with this kid called Jose. So I wrote this love song that was like (laughing), you know, when I was only 8 years old, yeah, yeah, yeah!"

She's still writing love songs -- just a lot more steamy.

After a four-year hiatus, she recently released a new album that includes a duet with superstar Rihanna.

You can see why Shakira turns a lot of heads. Forbes Magazine counted Shakira as the fourth-richest woman in music back in 2008 -- and that was before her lucrative run as a celebrity coach on "The Voice."

But fame and fortune weren't enough.

"I wanted to become relevant," Shakira said. "I always felt that I could make a change, a difference, even if it was a small difference, I knew that I could do something."

That "something" started in her home country of Colombia, a place never far from her heart, and a place she invited us to show us something special.

Cowan met Shakira in Cartagena. Like many places in Latin America, it has two distinct faces. There's the tourist-friendly old city, with its colorful street vendors and street performers.

But then not far away is a slum. There is little in the way of proper plumbing or reliable electricity there, and for the children, school is often seen as a luxury -- something Shakira saw every day in her home town of Baranquilla, just 90 miles away.

"There's just so many kids growing up abandoned without any chance to get a fair start in life," she said.

"It seems like it almost makes you angry," said Cowan.

"It's crazy! What do we expect from these children then in the future? Where are they going to end up? In prisons? In gangs? Why don't we use our heads and our efforts intelligently? And to me, the only way to do that is with our own kids."

That determination was about to become very concrete. As she made her way through the dirt streets, fans cheered -- not for a concert, but for a brand new, state-of-the-art school, one Shakira helped build from the very first bricks.

"It is like an oasis," she told Cowan, "where the kids can actually grow up, feeling protected, healthy, away from drugs, away from trouble. Where kids can be kids."

shakira-lee-cowan-in-school.jpg
Shakira and correspondent Lee Cowan tour a new school in Cartagena, Colombia, funded by the singer's Barefoot Foundation.
CBS News

Architecturally, it's a wonder, like a castle on a hill overlooking Cartagena.

There's enough room here for 1,700 kids who will be educated and fed while their parents get support and training.