Eva Longoria's Mission to Help Girls Get an Education
Eva Longoria is walking very, very carefully. Not to keep a stiletto from catching on her gown. Not to dodge the crush of reporters on the red carpet. No, this time she's in work boots and baggy cargoes, making her way through streets filled with garbage, trying to avoid the glares from gangs in a Colombian slum. The visit is part of A Path Appears, a multipart documentary premiering this month on PBS, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The series takes viewers from the trailer homes of Appalachia to the barrios of South America, and reveals some of the real causes of gender inequality. Longoria and other celebrities investigate issues like sex trafficking and poverty. ("[It's] much more than just not having enough money; it's not having hope," Jennifer Garner says in the film.) A Path Appears, however, is not only about problems—it's about solutions and the ordinary people making an extraordinary difference.
Longoria's trip to Cartagena spotlights one of the leading reasons girls there drop out of school: One in five 15- to 19-year-olds in Colombia is currently pregnant or already a mother. "Every step we took, there was another pregnant child, and none of them were in class," she says. "It was epidemic." But the actress, who recently went back to school to get her master's degree in Chicano studies, has always believed in the power of education. "My older sister Liza was born with special needs, and I watched my mom become a teacher's assistant so that she could stay with her in the classroom," she explains. That early memory is what inspired her to make education a cornerstone of her two charities, Eva's Heroes, for people with intellectual disabilities, and the Eva Longoria Foundation, which provides Latinas with STEM programs and other educational support. "Sometimes the only way to help," she says, "is one neighborhood at a time, one family at a time, one girl at a time."
That single-girl focus is why—even though, at 39, Longoria has acting cred (Desperate Housewives), a producing deal (Devious Maids is going for a third season), a cosmetics contract (L'Oréal Paris), and political clout (she was an Obama campaign cochair)—she picked her way through garbage in the barrio last year.
During filming she met one 17-year-old who'd gone into prostitution to help feed her destitute family and then become pregnant. "She was so young and terrified," says Longoria. "But I just kept saying, 'You will be more than this.' I don't think she'd ever heard that." Those experiences mean everything to the star. "I never dreamed of being an actress with this big a platform, but now I can help women reach their true potential. That's what I'm proud of."
HER WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Curiosity never killed the cat. I encourage all young women to stay curious."