When a model scout in London discovered supermodel Alek Wek in 1996, it had only been five years since she had to escape South Sudan as a child refugee. From day one of her modeling career, her ambition has been to use that platform to make a difference for people in need. In 2013, she joined the advisory board for the H&M Foundation to give her opinion on what issues the H&M Foundation should focus on, and shortly after she became the foundation’s ambassador.
Growing up in South Sudan, Alek Wek know first-hand what it means not to have clean water. Having to walk far to collect water from a water pump or from the rain. And the serious diseases dirty water brings.
Alek’s father, who was a politician for the Sudanese Liberal Party in the 1950’s, always emphasized the importance of education, even for girls. “My father used to say, you can lose almost everything, but you can’t lose your education,” says Alek Wek.
Growing up in a big family with eight siblings, Alek Wek saw how her mother, and other women in the village, was the real backbone of the family and the community. Despite this, she also saw – and sees – how women are ignored or not treated equally.
“I applaud the H&M Foundation’s way of not just handing out funds, but really getting to the core of the challenges. That dignifies the people in need, because no one wants to feel like they’re just being given, you want to work for what you have and it’s important to help in a sustainable way. You can give someone fish for a day, or you can give them a fishing rod to fish with for a lifetime,” says Alek Wek.