Heroic Stories

Halima Aden: From refugee camp to ramp

Written by Shruti Misra

From refugee camp to cover of Vogue. Halima Aden rose to fame when she decided to compete at a US beauty pageant in 2016 wearing hijab or headscarf.

The bold move catapulted this The Somali-American’s career to new heights involving many “firsts,” including being the first hijabi signed by a major modeling agency.

Halima Aden was born to Somali parents in a UN refugee camp in northeastern Kenya. Her parents had fled the fighting in Somalia after Aden’s mother’s village was burned to the ground in the early 1990s. Aden lived in the Kakuma camp.

Although the camp’s dangers included wild dogs with rabies, tensions between different groups, food insecurity, and the risk of fire and flood, Aden remembers her early childhood as mostly a happy time. Her Christian friends would celebrate the Eid with Aden’s family, and she would celebrate Christmas with their families. She also made friends with kids from the local Turkana ethnic group who lived in the region outside Kakuma and visited the camp to sell camel milk.

 Now a top model and despite having worked with Nike, Alberta Ferretti, and Yeezy, Halima has not forgotten her roots.

Recently, she visited the Kakuma Camp to deliver a TEDx talk from the Kakuma Camp.

 Halima said that she was thankful for getting to the opportunity to revisit the camp, which was founded in 1992 and is currently home to more than 185,000 inhabitants. “This camp taught me so many lessons and I’m so grateful I had the chance to return,” the model told her 620,000 Instagram followers. “A lot has changed since I’ve left but we still have a long way to go.”

Kakuma helped her gain a sense of community and respect for other cultures, Aden said, adding that she wanted to change the narrative of refugee camps as a place of despair.

“I want you to remember that although the children here are refugees, they are children,” Aden said at the TEDx event.

“They deserve every opportunity to flourish, to hope, to dream, to be successful,” she added. “My story began here in Kakuma refugee camp, a place of hope.”

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Shruti Misra

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