The Sudanese model Alek Wek knows first hand the power of education. “I grew up in South Sudan during the civil war, and my father always reminded us that despite all the bloodshed and struggle and heartbreak, if we were educated, no one could ever take away our knowledge,” recalls the 37 year-old, who was one of nine children.
And while she left Africa to pursue a career in fashion in London, where she was subsequently discovered by a model scout and became one of the biggest names of the nineties, Wek has never forgotten her roots. She has been a tireless advocate for human rights in her native country as well across the globe. Now she’s become an ambassador for the H&M Conscious Foundation, which today is sponsoring the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park to raise awareness and help end extreme poverty in the world by 2030.
Jay Zee, No Doubt and Fun are all on the roster to play but the perhaps the exciting news may be this evening’s announcement that the foundation will donate $9.3 million to Water Aid, which delivers water, sanitation and hygiene to schools. “There are refugee camps full of children who can’t get access to anything but there are also girls all over the world who get their period and then they drop out of school,” explains Wek.
Yesterday she helped announce another H&M Conscious Foundation gift that hits closer to home. The Swedish retailer will give $1.3 million to a Harlem-based school program that helps underprivileged children. “There are so many factors that stop kids from going to school and we need to address them. It’s quite amazing to empower a child.”