Waris Dirie (Somali: Waris Diiriye - Arabic: واريس ديري) is a Somali model, author, actress and human rights activist that was born into a nomadic clan in Galkacyo, Somalia in 1965. Living in the Somali desert near the border with Ethiopia at the tender age of five, she was forced to undergo the inhumane procedure of female genital mutilation. This horrible tradition still practiced in many countries around the world today – by both by Moslems and Christians. According to records kept by the United Nations more than 8000 girls become victims of this heinous crime every day. At the age of thirteen Waris left her family fleeing an arranged marriage to a considerably older man. After a daring escape and much tribulation she made it to London where she lived with and worked for wealthy relatives and later working at a local McDonald's. Working this low paid job after a war broke out in her country causing the closure of the Somalian Embassy where she had previously worked. Fortunately she was spotted by photographer Terence Donovan, who helped secure the cover of the 1987 Pirelli Calendar for her. From that point on her modeling career took off landing advertisements for top designers such as Chanel, Levi-Strauss, L'Oréal and Revlon. She has appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City for top designers as well as on the covers of fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue.
In 1987 she landed a minor role in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights followed in 1995 by a BBC documentary entitled A Nomad in New York about her modeling career. At the height of her modeling career in 1997, Waris spoke for the first time with Laura Ziv of the women's magazine Marie Claire about the female genital cutting (FGC) that she had undergone as a child. The interview received worldwide media coverage and that same year she became the UN Ambassador for the Abolition of FGC. That same year Waris was able to pay her mother a visit in her native Somalia. Waris authored her first book called Desert Flower, an autobiography that went on to become an international bestseller. She wrote several 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 FGC. In 1997 Harper Collins - New York published Desert Flower. The book quickly became an international bestseller. Since the book has been published in 65 licensed editions, was number 1 on the bestseller lists in many countries. In Germany, for example, the book stayed in the Top Ten list of best-selling books published in the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ for a total of 120 weeks and has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.
In March 2008 producer and Oscar-winning film-maker Peter Hermann (“Nowhere in Africa”) began the shooting of Desert Flower with a budget of 16 million dollars. The initial filming took place in Djibouti with mostly amateur actors. Further locations included New York, Berlin and London. Waris Dirie served as associate producer for the film, which was directed by Sherry Hormann. In 2009, the feature-length film based on her book Desert Flower was released, with the Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede playing her in the film. The movie has been released in 20 countries so far including France, Spain, Israel, Greece, Poland and Brazil. In January 2010, it won the Bavarian Film Awards in Munich in the Best Movie category. It was also nominated for a Film Award in Gold in the Outstanding Feature Film category at the German Film Awards, and won the Audience Award in the Best European Film category at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
In 1997, Waris retired from her modeling career to focus on her work against female circumcision. That same year, she was appointed UN Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. In 2002, she founded the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna, Austria and in March 2005 Waris acquired Austrian citizenship. The Desert Flower Foundation is an organization whose mission is to raise awareness regarding the dangers surrounding FGC. Waris followed that in January 2009 with the establishment of the PPR Foundation for Womens Dignity and Rights which is an organization she founded along with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her native Somalia and she also supports the Zeitz Foundation which is focused on sustainable development and conservation. In 2010, Waris was appointed Peace Ambassador for the Year of Peace and Security by the African Union. Over the years Waris Dirie has received numerous awards for her humanitarian work and the books she has authored.
Woman of the Year Award by Glamour Magazine in 2000
Corine Award from the umbrella association of the German bookselling trade in 2002
Womens World Award from former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in 2004
Bishop Óscar Romero Award by the Catholic Church in 2005
Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007
Prix des Générations from the World Demographic Association in 2007
Martin Buber Gold Medal from the Euriade Foundation in 2008
Gold medal of the President of the Republic of Italy for her achievements in human rights activist in 2010
In March 2004, Waris was attacked in her home in Vienna, Austria. Paulo Augusto, a 26-year-old Portuguese man, was held in custody after having apparently stalked her some 1,000 miles across Europe, eventually gaining access to her apartment by climbing through a neighbour's window. According to a police spokesman - "She was so frightened and in shock that she let him in". Dirie apparently suffered minor injuries when her assailant threw her to the floor. The attacker then left in a taxi, only to return later on foot to smash one of the building's ground-floor windows. He was arrested when neighbours called the police and was later given a five month suspended sentence by an Austrian court. Allegedly the suspect had met Dirie six months earlier when his brother was working at her previous residence in Wales. He later broke into that home and stole items of her clothing. She has traveled the world extensively for the UN, participated in numerous conferences on the subject, met with national leaders, Nobel Prize-winners and international stars while gaining support for this important issue as well as generating large donations for the UN. Aside from her home in Vienna she also has a place in Gdansk, Poland. Waris is not related to fellow Somali model Iman as some rumors have it, but Iman's mother was good friends with her aunt who was the same relative with whom Waris lived during her time in London.
Read an interview with Waris Dirie at: www.uptempomagazine.com
Women on the Edge
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Yabanci is a book by a Dutch woman who moved from Holland to Turkey to starta new life in a Turkish village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A great read for those who are considering a move abroad or have lived in a different culture. Available in English as an ebook or in Dutch in both print and popular ebook formats.. take a look
Desert Flower Foundation
What can we do? Help raising awareness! Talk about this crime! Tell your families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances what Female Genital Mutilation is – and that it happens here in Europe, among us. In order to finally ban FGM in Europe it is important, that as many people as possible are informed and that they oppose this practice. www.desertflowerfoundation.org