Press Releases, 17 June 2013
Washington, DC, June 17, 2013 (UNHCR) – South Sudanese Supermodel and former refugee Alek Wek has been appointed as the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR) 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.
Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR's Regional Representative to the US and the Caribbean, said in his video message that the former refugee had demonstrated a "genuine commitment to humanitarian issues." Wek has been an out-spoken advocate for access to education for refugee and displaced youth for over a decade.
"I am confident that by undertaking this important role, with your passion and concern, you will help UNHCR mobilize life-saving support and resources to address the situation of refugees and displaced persons around the world, specifically in Africa and South Sudan," said Pitterman.
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.' In 1991, Wek and her family were forced to leave their hometown Wau and flee to Khartoum in the north of Sudan. "My father was unable to get access to the medical care he needed and we lost him after we fled our home," said Wek. Wek knows intimately the impact of violent displacement on families.
Wek sought refuge in London where she was joined by her mother two years later. During her first year in college she was approached by a modeling scout. Wek went on to become one of the most influential African models in the world breaking the mold for beauty in the fashion industry.
In 2012, in celebration of the one-year anniversary of independence, Wek traveled to South Sudan with UNHCR. In a small village built by UNHCR Wek said she heard numerous women express concern over their children's future, specifically their daughters. At the forum Wek spoke passionately about the need to educate girls. "Today, it is three-times more likely that a girl in South Sudan will die in childbirth than make it to the eighth grade," said Wek.
UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassadors are, along with High Commissioner António Guterres, the most recognizable public faces of the UN refugee agency. They help bring UNHCR to every corner of the world through their celebrity, popularity, influence, dedication and hard work.