Supermodel Alek Wek travelled to her home country for the first time since it was declare a sovereign state. On her flight to Sudan, she made a stop over at the JKIA where she shared her thoughts on being a refugee, what her plans are for the maiden trip and her hope for her home country.
It is one year since South Sudan's independence. What is going through your mind right now?
Wow, I don't know if there is any word to describe it really. This is my first time back since independence. I'm just going in with an open mind, just taking it all in. I'm also coming in with UNHCR who have been involved in various projects and spent an enormous amount of time working with the refugees. It is very humbling. Yeah, I'm just looking forward to getting back to the land in which I was raised. And see where it is and where it is going.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is asking the South Sudanese leaders to also look into the provision of basic need to the people so they can feel and appreciate the independence and fruits of being a sovereign state. What is your take on that?
Infrastructure is important, obviously. It is a new country. I haven't been there but my mum has visited, UNHCR have been there several times, from what I gather there is rapid growth and (with it comes) a huge challenge.
I think that education is important because who is going to lead this new country moving forward, it is the youth, the young ones. That is one aspect, agriculture and medical care is also very important so if the government can work together with the UNHCR because both can't do it alone. I think that if we understand the situation in terms of the community and what we are dealing with we can all come together reform can come about.
Sudan and South Sudan pledged to cease hostilities along their disputed oil-rich border but stopped short of actually signing an agreement. How will this factor in the whole scheme of things?
First of all, if there isn't any safety in place, it is difficult to do anything or try to accomplish anything. It is difficult to put out a fire that keeps burning. It is important to emphasize that a peace agreement is a peace agreement. And it is not just saying it but it's actually also executing it that way UNHCR and other NGO can go in there and do their jobs.
I'm just excited to be going back home after independence. I ended up going secretly to London with my family, I never thought independence would come. You know. And the fact that it is here, though there are challenges, I think there is a lot of positivity that can outweigh the negativity. The people (foster) the hope and enthusiasm to build and come back home, that is something to be supported and encouraged.
Talking or returning home and rebuilding will you be making the big step of going back home to South Sudan permanently?
I mean, I don't know if I'm going to quit yet searching for work. I don't think that people will be coming to Sudan and say 'Okay we are going to shoot a campaign and we are going to do the shows here'. But definitely, I want to come more often. I want to be a small part I can be in shedding the light in a positive note. I always like to believe that to build the nation, to bring about change is not just one aspect it is so many aspects. Not everyone has to be in politics, we need doctors, teachers we need lawyers, we need infrastructure and that cannot happen overnight. If there is any negativity why do we have to focus on it instead of addressing it? And this being the one year anniversary, it is getting us close to that.
How is fashion related with your cause to shed light on South Sudan?
I always say that fashion is not all the part it has given me; I have enjoyed travelling where I have had to experience various cultures in different countries. This has opened my eye. I have done so at an age where I have the energy to run around because one day I would like to settle down, I come from a big family of nine and my mother is already on us. First it was education, the girls had to be educated as well as the boys and then find us a decent job and now it's like 'Where are the babies?'
So that would be really wonderful but bringing it back, I really believe that I have been blessed in terms of fashion giving me a voice that I can utilize at articulating important issues. Having come from South Sudan and going through the civil war with my family, seeking refuge in England and getting a second chance, I have never forgotten what the other refugees are going through, even after the peace agreement or even now with the independence in place.
We have people coming back home with absolutely nothing. And you are talking about children whose grandmothers are taking care of them because their parents aren't there. It is stories like this that touch me and if you are privileged enough to have the voice to be able to utilize, I think, this are issues that you should be able to bring attention to. The power of coming together is really strong and that is what this independence truly shows even though there was conflict between such and such groups at the end of the day, not even in the west has any country's election came even close to 100 percent of the vote so basically that shows that people spoke.
You have talked of settling down, does that mean we will be hearing wedding bells soon?
Oh my gosh, I said I'm thinking. Stay tuned, I will keep you posted. I'm still fishing, actually. No, I would definitely love to have a place, my mother would love us to come back and settle down in South Sudan for sure.
One of the things you will be doing in South Sudan is meeting the first lady what will you be talking about?
I don't think I will be doing much talking, I will be doing a lot of listening. I'm very humbled and excited. I haven't meet her but I have heard wonderful thinks about her the fact that she is very passionate about the youth and children. She is not just the first lady, she has been there first hand and has seen her husband fight the war for decades so I'm just looking forward to just listen and be there.
You are also featured in the new season of MTV Base meets... what will be your agenda or message in the show?
Again, the youth are not just the future of tomorrow but today. It wasn't just long ago I was this 14-year-old girl, you know, I can't believe it now I'm a young lady, I have finished my education and I'm working and I remember not too long ago I was one of the refugees with my family walking for weeks and months looking for any food and eating whatever that was along the way in the bush. So it I very easy to be in that place, thats why I think it is very important to do something. MTV Base is fantastic because they have a large audience so the fact that they can really listen to the youth is important because they are the ones who will not repeat what took place in the past. And I think it is very important we invest in them.
That is why I say education is very important because if you are not educated how are you going to know better? And the youth is where we should start.
You will be visiting your home town of Wau, what is going through your head about that?
I will be going in with an open mind and want to take it all in, go back (to the states) and tell all my folks. Even though I'm from Sudan, UNHCR are always in there, working there, they see how many refugee are coming in seeing when there are floods, people in wet clothes, eating grass because there is no food. (These are some of) the little things that we take for granted and that we need but yet it is not there and if it is there, it is not enough.
I'm not interested in politics but I obviously believe that it has a lot to do with decision making. So, if we can get that very clear and make sure that when there is supposed to be a peace agreement and there is no conflict. Action speaks louder than words. Hopefully that is the direction we are going towards. So far, the first lady and everyone has been cooperative and that is a positive start.
At the end of the day, it's the politics and the leaders who hold the final say on the peace of the country. Any message to them?
I have been there when we were vulnerable, we lost our father in the midst of it all when something like what he had would have been treated. We were very middle class, my father worked for the board of the education and my mother had a full time job raising nine children but still did whatever she could, she was literary the manager of the house.
I think that safety is important for the refugees returning. There are there are other fundamentals like shelter, health care and food. What I hear is, people can't find food within the country, they pay so much and that is not just because it has happened that is the way it has been, somebody has made it that way. I think they need to stop, they need to think about the people and stop blaming or avoid it.
I want to go in there and see it for myself and since UNHCR are always active on the ground and seeing how they are frustrated, they do one thing and keep going back to square one. The lack support from the people who make the decisions. It would be much better to be at peace and then try and get on the road to development. It is not like any parties are having fun, either people are suffering too up North.