Supermodel Alek Wek was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2013, after many years of committed support. As a former refugee from Sudan, Alek knows what it is like to be forced to flee her home. She travels across the globe using her voice, her fame and her story to support UNHCR and refugees at events, conferences and in the media.
Alek was only nine when civil war broke out in Sudan. “Life as we knew it came to a devastating end," she remembers. "Our parents tried to shield us from the conflict but the sounds of gunfire and the vibrations of explosions filled us with dread. Dead bodies filled the landscape.”
Alek and her family fled their village and survived in the bush, foraging for food and taking shelter in abandoned huts until they managed to escape to Khartoum, from where Alek’s mother sent her and one of her sisters to London. “I knew with all my heart that she was doing what was best for us, but that didn’t ease the pain.”
Having lost so much, education became the only thing that mattered to Alek and she was fiercely devoted to learning, despite arriving in the UK not speaking any English. Soon after being discovered by a model scout, Alek embarked on a successful international career in the world of high fashion. “In a matter of years, I went from a faceless refugee statistic to one of the most recognizable faces in the world.”
Over the past year Alek has honoured the work and staff of UNHCR by presenting the Arab American Institute’s Khalil Gibran Award to UNHCR and the German Sustainability Honorary Fellowship to our High Commissioner. Alek also helped launch the Sustainable Development Goals at the Social Good Summit in New York and continued to use her global platform to speak about refugee issues in the media, including as part of the BBC's 100 Women season and with AOL.