Horrified by the 20 years of civil war that devolved into lawlessness in her homeland, entrepreneur and supermodel Iman wanted to do something for her countrymen.
“It was a clan-based country, not tribal. Everyone was related to each other, one language, one religion, you could not think of a more unified country,” she says. “As a Somali it’s mind-boggling to me what is happening.”
Three years ago she connected with the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation via Glamour mag editor Cindi Leivi.
“It’s a small foundation, on the ground, with people who making lasting changes rather than big foundations that make a lot of noise,” Iman says.
Since then she has held fundraisers, recorded PSAs and on April 5 hosted a Gotham screening of the documentary “Through the Fire,” about Abdi, Edna Adan and Ilwad Elman and their work in Somalia. Instead of collecting cash, Iman prefers equipment, text books and other needed goods that the Abdi Foundation distributes in Somalia.
What Iman likes about the foundation is that Abdi runs the show with her daughters and “doesn’t discriminate, because that’s what has brought trouble, (just) helping your clans, and I’m not going that route.”
The foundation runs hospitals, schools and teaches manual labor skills with Somalis helping Somalis. Dubbed “Mother Teresa meets Rambo,” Abdi is also an advocate for educating girls, which the radical factions have tried to prevent.
Iman, who runs a global cosmetics company, actively helps other charities, including Save the Children, Unicef Go – 2 – School Initiative/Somalia and Hope for Congo.
“I always believed that future of Africa is in the women,” says Iman, who’s married to music legend David Bowie.
She is also a firm supporter of non-governmental orgs based on her own experience. In the 1970s, this child of a diplomat was forced to flee her home with her family and walk to Kenya. She was discovered by photog Peter Beard while at Nairobi U. and became a model.
“NGOs took care of us, a lot of people don’t understand NGOs are like angels. They get you food, shelter a job, relocate you,” she says. “I know how they live, I’ve lived with them. You can’t fathom how they live, why do they do it. It’s a calling and thank God it’s a calling.”