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SNAPPY 7: Halima Aden – I was a house maid before I became a supermodel

Supermodel Halima Aden has come a long way. Born and raised at Kakuma refugee camp, she relocated to America with her mother at the age of seven. At 20, she is now gracing global runway shows.

She recently became the first woman to feature on the cover of British Vogue wearing a hijab.

In June, she visited the Kakuma camp for the first time since she left. Last week she was appointed a Unicef Ambassador.

She spoke to Nairobi News.

What went through your mind when you got a call to be a model?

I just remember going like ooh, is this a joke, is this a prank, like what is just happening. But it was incredible because that is not something that comes by everyday especially for me. I wear a hijab and that is something that has never happened before. So for me it was a big deal.

You are back in Kakuma for the first time since you left. What memories do you have of running up and down here as a kid?

I have so many memories, like they always just come to me and hitting me like a moth truck. I just have so many memories of what it was like to just have a tonne of freedom back then. Seeing it now I’m like maybe that was not a good idea but I remember just being with my friends, just going off alone and being gone for like hours, all day and running back home in time for supper or dinner. It’s nothing major but something small that reminds me of how it was to be a child here.

Before you got your major break, you used to work as a housekeeper?

Yes, I did housekeeping for two years. For me I wanted to get my foot to hospital one way or another, so I applied for housekeeping and did it for two years. Actually it’s funny because I was in housekeeping and doing modeling at the same time. The first six months of being a model I also kept my job for job security reasons. I did not know if it was going to go well or not do so well so it was my backup plan and I also liked my job.

As a young person, what inspires you?

What inspires me is community. Hearing different stories. I love to get to learn the different journeys even if it is like the opposite of my journey, I find it fascinating. I think we have so much stories to tell and we can all learn from each other, so that has always been me.

I love learning and I love hearing and getting to meet different people, it inspires me. Also, me wanting to inspire the children, whether they are refugees, Muslims, hijab wearing women, that inspires me to do good and to work hard at least.

What did your mom tell you when you told her that you wanted to be a model?

My mom thought I was crazy. She was like really, why, that was the first question she asked me. She is an African mother and she was like go back to school, get to bed. She told me to go put on a dress and walk in the living room for an hour and after that one hour you are going back to your routine, you’re not doing fashion basically. She kept me grounded. Right now she is happy with anything that has to do with modelling.

Do you think your hijab is a political statement?

No, I don’t think it is. I was eight years old when I first put it on because I thought my mother looked pretty in it. I just wanted to look like her it’s that simple.

In your life, is there pressure to look in a certain way?

I think being a girl in today’s society wherever you are there is always pressure to look a certain way. There is that pressure wanting to be your absolute best with this society of what beautiful is.

But I learned pretty quick that, that definition is unattainable to me and what makes me beautiful is not my physical appearance it’s what is on the inside. I feel like that is an answer that we all say but it is truly the way you carry yourself as a young girl. Beauty is a way of life.

Why Rihanna songs?

(Laughs out loud). It’s Rihanna sir, do you want me to go out and answer that? Pon de Replay, I think that came out just after we had left the camp and I remember in the camp, the only song that I remember was American was Kelly Rowland and Nelly (Dilemma, starts to sing) we only had one radio on our block and boy did we turn up. Everyone knew the song.