The activist — who was also the first hijab-wearing model to land a cover of Vogue — was born at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, and now uses her platform to raise funds and awareness for the global refugee crisis. As part of Vogue’s Hope series, she shares how you can make a difference in helping displaced people across the world.
In a letter written exclusively for Vogue, model and activist Halima Aden reflects on the devastating effects Covid-19 has had on refugees, and how hope can activate real change.
I was asked by my dear friends at Vogue to share my experience as a refugee to help inspire hope around the world. I’m happy to do that — my childhood was filled with laughter and friends and adventures. My entire life is a tale of hope: a young girl who moved to the US, not knowing a word of English, and became an international fashion model. What’s more uplifting?
As grateful as I am for my incredible journey, I can’t turn a blind eye to the hardships I experienced as a refugee. After all, those same hardships taught me the qualities that define me today: resilience and tenacity. Yes, my childhood at Kakuma Refugee Camp [in Kenya] was a happy one, but that doesn’t erase the fact that my family faced bouts of malaria, food scarcity and dehydration. Having friends doesn’t change the fact that we were displaced from our home country, and longed to find safety and routine. I can’t imagine combining the daily challenges of being a refugee with a global pandemic, but that is the exact reality that millions of refugees are facing today.
Covid-19 is a critical threat to children on the move.
Covid-19 is a critical threat to children on the move. Across the globe, the lives of children and their families have been turned upside down by the rapid spread of coronavirus. In just a few short months, whole countries have found themselves largely confined to their homes in a bid to halt the spread of Covid-19.
But millions of displaced children across the world are denied such basic protections — a home to isolate in, the chance to stay physically distant, or even just the facilities to wash their hands with soap and water. Many live in cramped conditions with limited access to safe water and clean toilets; others are in immigration detention or live with disabilities; are unaccompanied or separated from their families; and lots will struggle to access accurate information in a language they understand.
Displaced children — refugees, migrants or those internally displaced — are already among the world’s most vulnerable, driven from their homes and all they know by conflict, disaster, drought, lack of food or grinding poverty. Millions of children and their families live in overcrowded camps, settlements and urban slums where even basic water and sanitation facilities are absent. Access to free or affordable healthcare and other essential services is limited or unavailable, and many families rely on precarious daily wages and informal labor to survive.
Too often cut off from education, displaced children and their families are often already the hardest to reach, with little accurate and child-friendly information in a language they understand. And without the protection of school, children and women face increased risk of exploitation, abuse and early marriage. Tragically, fake news on Covid-19 can exacerbate the xenophobia and discrimination that migrant and displaced children and their families already face. If the virus takes hold in those communities least able to protect themselves, as seems imminent, the impacts will be devastating, both now and in the long term.
Today there are more than 31 million children who have fled their homes and are seeking safety around the world. Just like me, these children did not choose to be born in a war-torn country or famine. They have no ill-intention or malice in their heart as they seek safety, and I implore you to find ways to lift them up and help foster their dreams.
Perhaps this didn’t give you the sense of hope you were looking for — I can’t apologize for the harsh reality that so many face. Instead, what I want to leave you with is a sense of empowerment. You now know the hardships that young men and women are facing, and now it’s time to act.
Make room for refugees in every industry and at every table.
You can support organizations such as Unicef that are working around the clock to prioritize the needs of refugees in these unparalleled times. Unicef is working to provide clean water for good hygiene, actively deploying access to Covid-19 healthcare, advocating against xenophobia, implementing education strategies for continued learning for all children and so much more. Unicef helped me have the childhood that I cherish and I am so proud to use my platform as a Unicef Ambassador to advocate for little girls and boys just like I was.
In addition to financial support, make room for refugees in every industry and at every table. Ask them what they need, show them you are listening and remember their words. Refugees are resilient and remarkable people who only ask to have a safe tomorrow. Grant them that decency and watch the world flourish. My belief that all refugees can be afforded the same life I have been granted has never been stronger, but there is work to be done. Let’s show the world what happens when hope, empathy and activism join forces.
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk