From US Congresswoman Ilhar Oman to Nigerian chess champion Tanitoluwa Adewumi – the success stories of African refugees who are making their mark globally are currently trending. The spotlight this week fell on Kenyan born Somali model Halima Aden. She has become the first woman to ever appear in a spread of the sexy American publication Sports Illustrated in a burkini and hijab. The burkini is a modest version of a conventional bikini that only reveals the face, hands, and feet of the person wearing it.
Halima Aden’s humble beginning
Halima Aden was born in Kenya, at the world’s fourth largest refugee camp Kakuma Refugee Camp. Kakuma Refugee Camp has developed a reputation for itself as a hub of innovation. Its residents have found ways to build livelihoods despite having major restrictions in movement. It is the first refugee camp in the world to host a TEDx event, at which Aden spoke, and Kakuma also boasts of flourishing entrepreneurs ranging from music video directors to fashion designers.
Aden moved to the US at the age of 7 and grew up there, but still refers to Kakuma Refugee Camp as her home. “I think many people are surprised to hear that I had a great upbringing here at Kakuma. That I was happy, I was smart and I had friends – and above all, I had hope for a brighter future” she said in her Ted Talk at the Kakuma Refugee Camp. She also shared her first experiences upon moving to the US that included how she disliked it and wanted to go back to Kakuma. At a point in middle school, she was also bullied for wearing her hijab and not showing her hair. However, all of these experiences were a part of shaping her success today.
Halima, breaking records
Aden cemented her role as a pioneer as the first Muslim homecoming queen at her high school, and the first Somali student Senator at her college. This led up to her breaking into a winning streak of firsts in the world of fashion.
“I’m not afraid to be the first, to step out on my own, to take risks and seek change because that’s what being a minority is all about; using yourself as a vessel to bring change and being a representation for the power of diversity” Aden shared.
The photo shoot for Sports Illustrated took her back to her home country, taking place on the breathtaking backdrop of Watamu Beach in Kenya’s Kilifi County. “For her SI Swimsuit rookie spread, we couldn’t think of a more perfect place to travel than her birth country, where she shot at Watamu Beach with photographer Yu Tsai,” the magazine said in a statement.
As Halima Aden secures another first for herself and for the world of fashion, her message to the world via an Instagram post was very clear: “Don’t change yourself… Change the GAME!!”
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