Waris Dirie is a Model, Author, Actress and Human Rights Activist of Somali origin. Waris was born into a nomadic family in 1965 in Galkayo, Somalia. At the age of thirteen, she fled to Mogadishu in order to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. There, she briefly lived with an older sister and her family.
Waris along with a few relatives later moved to London, where she resided with and worked for an uncle who had been appointed Somali Ambassador. When his term in office ended, Waris remained in the city and held a job at a local McDonald’s. She also began evening classes to learn English.
By chance, Waris was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan, who helped secure for her the cover of the 1987 Pirelli Calendar. From there, her modeling career took off, appearing in advertisements for top designers such as Chanel, Levi’s, L’Oreal and Revlon.
*Dear Waris Dirie, welcome to Tropics Magazine and thank you for granting us this exclusive interview. Having you featured here is quite an historic moment for us, so we are grateful for this opportunity. How are you doing?
I am on holiday with my children at the moment and am having a wonderful time.
*Who is Waris Dirie in her own words? Your mother is the one who named you ‘Desert Flower’ and we know what that means for you. How has life been treating you since you have become a mother, yourself?
Well, being a mother can be very challenging at times, I am sure every mother agrees with me on this point. But I love being a mother, my children Alekee, Mohamed, Hawo and Leon are the greatest joy of my life. Our children are our future; we need to treat them with respect.
« The Desert Flower Foundation fights against FGM by raising public awareness to this cruel practice, we work with the international media and use social media such as our Website, Facebook, Twitter and our Blog. The Foundation supports girls and women threatened or already affected by FGM. » – Waris Dirie
*Millions of people loved the idea of transporting your real life story on the screen. Has the fight against female circumcision changed since its release?
Yes, the movie was a great contribution to the fight against FGM. Numerous young girls and boys from all over the world contacted my Desert Flower Foundation after the movie-release. Many of the girls have been victims of FGM or being threatened by FGM. They contacted us for help and support. Many others were deeply shocked by the mutilation scene and offered to help us with our fight against FGM. The movie was a great success.
*You are a legendary Model because you are one of the few people who use their talent to make an impact in the society. Talking about making a difference, how does the ‘Desert Flower Foundation’ help make change in today’s society?
The Desert Flower Foundation fights against FGM by raising public awareness to this cruel practice, we work with the international media and use social media such as our Website, Facebook, Twitter and our Blog. The Foundation supports girls and women threatened or already affected by FGM; they can contact us directly by our Email email@example.com if they need help. Since 2002 we have received more than 110.000 Emails from all over the world. On September 11th we will open the first Desert Flower Medical Center in Berlin as a pilot project. The Desert Flower Medical Center offers reconstructive surgery and holistic treatment for girls and women affected by FGM. We are planning to establish an international network of Desert Flower Medical Centres to help the 150 Million FGM-victims worldwide.
*Fighting for your fellow women is both a challenging and emotional journey. Will you share with our readers one of the most important lesson you have learned from these real-life experiences and tell us how they contribute to making your life fulfilled?
In 2004 a Sudanese family, refugees from Darfur, contacted my foundation. The mother of the family told us that her daughter was threatened by FGM and that she was abused by her husband. After a few meetings with us she decided to get divorced and her beautiful little baby girl was saved. Today she is working for our foundation and teaches FGM-workshops for African women. Inspiring and strong women like her fulfill my life. A single impulse can change a human beings life forever. This woman now lives a self-determined life and empowers other women. That gives me strength and confidence.
* Finally, what advice do you have for young girls (of all origins) who wish to follow in your footsteps by becoming women of substance?
Believe in yourself! Don’t be afraid, you have one life, LIVE IT!
Get in touch with the Desert Flower Foundation: http://www.desertflowerfoundation.org
Interview conducted by Vénicia Guinot. Courtesy of Tropics Magazine.