Christina Aguilera has visited Haiti, Rwanda and Guatemala on relief effort trips, but last week in Ecuador she not only offered support to struggling and hungry children - she also connected with her roots.
Aguilera's father is from Ecuador. The trip marked the first time the 34-year-old singer, who was born in New York, had visited the country.
"This particular trip was sort of extra-special for me because it is my blood and heritage. My father was born in Ecuador and my grandfather was born in Quito, which is the city I stayed in. And we would drive out in the fields which were hours away by car and into the farmland and sort of refugee areas where people are struggling,'' Aguilera said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.
"This was a really interesting and raw way to go about it. It wasn't like I vacationed there in one of the more beautiful spots such as Galapagos Islands or things like that. I went into the fields and got to meet the women and children there who are really trying to survive,'' she said.
Aguilera has been a volunteer global spokesperson for Yum! Brands' World Hunger Relief since 2009. She has visited Rwanda, Haiti and Guatemala.
She chose to visit Ecuador this year from a list provided to her, Aguilera said.
"I definitely had always wanted to go visit where my dad comes from, the culture, you know, not having sort of a consistent relationship at all in my life with him and not really knowing him as I've gotten older through the years as well. You know, there's a history there. But, you know, it is a part of my blood and a part of my heritage and a part of my people,'' she said. "And I would look at the faces and I would sort of ... sometimes feel like I saw a resemblance. I think it's important and I think it's good to know where you come from and sort of get to know your roots.''
Aguilera said "it felt that much better to me that I was in a place that I felt so connected to and was able to give back to.''
She's filmed a public service announcement to raise hunger awareness that will be released next month. Yum! Brands Inc., the parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC, said its eight-year-old World Hunger Relief initiative has raised $600 million in cash and food for the United Nations' World Food Program and other organizations.
Her trip included visiting schools and providing lunch for children who have to travel far to get to school.
"It takes these kids 45 minutes walking by themselves, alone, up a hill,'' she said.
"It's really hard for these kids and I couldn't wait to come back and tell my own kids these stories to ... better appreciate what they have,'' the mother of two said. "These kids, they just were the most well-mannered, sweet-natured, little kids.''