Waris Dirie is a Somali model, author, actress and human rights activist.
At the age of thirteen, she fled her family in order to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. By chance, she 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’Oréal and Revlon.
In 1997, at the height of her modeling career, Waris spoke for the first time with Laura Ziv of the women’s magazine Marie Claire about the female genital mutilation (FGM) that she had undergone as a child, an interview which received worldwide media coverage. That same year, she became a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM.
In 1998, Waris authored her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography which went on to become an international bestseller. She later released other successful books including Desert Dawn, Letter To My Mother, and Desert Children, the latter of which was launched in tandem with a European campaign against FGM. In 2009, a feature-length film based on Waris’ book Desert Flower was released, with the Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede playing her.
In January 2009, she established the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, an organization she founded along with François-Henri Pinault and his wife Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her native Somalia, and supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation.
In 2010, Waris was appointed Peace Ambassador for the Year of Peace and Security by the African Union.
Waris has received many prizes and awards for her humanitarian work and books.
“Africa has to stop destroying itself. The pointless fights between families, clans or rebel groups have to stop. Without peace, there will be no future for Africa. Africa has to recognise its own potential. The people of Africa have to recognise the beauty of their continent and understand how they can benefit from the incredible resources their continent has to offer. The people of Africa have to stop waiting for help. Only the men and women of Africa can save their continent.”