The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has appointed Sudan Sudanese British Supermodel and former refugee Alek Wek as its newest National Goodwill Ambassador.
Wek was formally welcomed into the UN family on Sunday in Libreville, Gabon, where she was participating in the New York Forum Africa gathering of Heads of States, entrepreneurs and experts who came together to create a road map of action for development on the continent.
“I am humbled and honored to be presented with the role of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. It is thrilling to receive this at a conference full of business people and political leaders who are working to increase development, education and healthcare in Africa,” said Wek.
The announcement of her official role comes just days before World Refugee Day. This year’s theme is ‘1 family torn apart by war is 1 too many.’
Alek Wek Shares her story with Marie Claire
At 14, Wek arrived in London as a refugee, accompanied by two of her sisters, but without their mother, who followed two years later, after recovering from typhoid. “My mother is so resilient,” she says. “That’s one of the things she’s passed on to us.”
‘My commitment to refugees comes from a very personal place. I grew up in southern Sudan, one of nine children. Our life was simple but very happy. When I was a girl, civil war in Sudan forced me to flee my home town of Wau.
I remember three days of shooting before we left. Everyone was terrified. War tore my family apart. My father’s health deteriorated and eventually we lost him.
I was only 12 years old. I was forced to grow up very fast and leave the home that I loved.
But my father left me a precious gift: it was the education he made sure I received that enabled me to build a successful career in the fashion industry.
Modelling was an alien world to me; back home we had no concept of fashion. And I was alien to the fashion world. There were certainly no other dark skinned models with Dinka features. I believe my career has helped break prejudices and create new opportunities for African models.
Fashion has also given me a platform to raise awareness for refugees. My story illustrates that refugees are not so different to everybody else, not so alien after all. Walk down the street and look around you; I bet you can’t say who has a refugee story in their family and who does not. Maybe they came from Sudan, from Afghanistan, maybe they came from Bosnia, or maybe their grandparents fled Europe in the Second World War or even further back in time.
There are invisible threads that connect all our stories. Just like you, refugees have families, routines, they want education and jobs for their children, they look like us, they hope like us.