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Halima Aden Returns to the Refugee Camp Where She Was Born

She’s a model who has graced magazine covers (including Vogue Arabia) and fashion week runways, but Halima Aden has certainly not forgotten her roots. The 20-year-old Somali-American model, who rose to fame after donning traditional Muslim dress to compete in a US beauty pageant in 2016, has returned to the refugee camp in which she was born, and for a very important reason.

Aden, who has worked with Nike, Alberta Ferretti, and Yeezy, to name just a few, was in Kenya this week to deliver a TEDx talk from the Kakuma Camp. The veiled runway star was born in the camp in 1997, and moved to the United States six years later, settling in Minnesota. The camp, situated in northwest Kenya, hosted the TED event on June 9, which brought together a number of current and former refugees besides other speakers and performers. The media organization asked participants to “share stories of perseverance and creativity”, according to its website, with the theme given as “thrive”.

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“The aim is to steer away from the one-sided narrative of suffering and dejection,” the event page stated. “[It is] also about showcasing how refugees can help change not only their lives but the communities and countries in which they live.” The gathering marked the first time a TED event has been held in a refugee camp.

Aden revealed she was thankful for getting to the opportunity to revisit the camp, which was founded in 1992 and is currently home to more than 185,000 inhabitants. “This camp taught me so many lessons and I’m so grateful I had the chance to return,” the model told her 620,000 Instagram followers. “A lot has changed since I’ve left but we still have along way to go.” The model also revealed she worked on a short documentary about returning to Kenya, in collaboration with UNICEF and Teen Vogue, though no release date has yet been given.

Aden also shared a short snippet of her TED Talk, though the full video is not yet live on TED’s YouTube page. Other speakers on the day included Yiech Pur Biel, who was part of the first refugee team in history to compete at the Olympics, and Mesfin Getahun, an entrepreneur who launched a successful wholesale business from the camp.

“I want you to remember that although the children here are refugees, they are children,” Aden said during her talk, according to Reuters. “They deserve every opportunity to flourish, to hope, to dream, to be successful. My story began here in Kakuma refugee camp, a place of hope.”

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