For Halima Aden, her roster of accomplishments is filled with firsts:

“I was the first Muslim homecoming queen at my high school, the first Somali student senator at my college, and the first hijab-wearing woman in many places, like the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant, the runways of Milan and New York fashion weeks, and even on the historic cover of British Vogue,” she explained in a recent TED Talk she gave at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya — another first, both for her and for TED, as it was the first talk streamed from a refugee camp in the program’s history. But the visit also held a special significance for Halima, as it marked the first time she had returned to Kakuma after moving to the United States at age 7.


Teen Vogue traveled with Halima and filmmaker Mikey Kay to the camp where she was born (her mother had fled her native Somalia on foot). There, Halima met with children who were attending the same school she had, played a game of pickup basketball, and visited the camp’s electrical, masonry, and dressmaking classes. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 185,000 displaced peoples from 14 different countries currently live in Kakuma; some of those refugees were preparing to move to the United States before the Trump administration instituted a travel ban that prohibited immigrants from certain countries from entering the country. Somalia is one of those countries.

Now an American citizen, Halima carries Kakuma with her throughout her life. “I think, Did I make the most out of my journey to America? Did I make the most out of my life?” she tells Teen Vogue. “I know millions of other people, other girls my age, they got to stay behind. They got to live their lives out here, and I escaped, I made it out.”

Halima also met with UNICEF, which is supporting the education effort in camps like Kakuma by providing resources and support for teachers and students alike. She has big plans for the secondary school she visited, and told Teen Vogue she would love to one day see the classroom use a projector or iPads rather than chalkboards for lessons. And in her new role as a UNICEF ambassador, the model plans to continue fighting for refugees and helping make their voices heard.

“I want to be an advocate for refugees,” she says. “I want to share my story. I want them to be able to feel like they can go and do anything they put their mind to.”

To help support the work UNICEF does for children around the world, visit here.

This video was filmed, produced and edited by journalist Mikey Kay.

By Ella Cerón

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