I began to see the severity of the Coronavirus during an international work trip to Thailand. It was during Chinese New Year at the end of January and everyone was wearing masks. At that point, I had no idea that the United States would be in a similar situation just months later. As I continued traveling for work, both domestically and internationally, I had my hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand. I used the skills I learned as a former Environmental Services employee at my local Minnesota hospital to clean my own hotel rooms. As someone who worked cleaning patient rooms even seven months into my modeling career, I have an empathetic heart for the thousands of medical workers who are on the frontline and doing all they can around the country to help with what the foreseeable future holds.
These scary times are allowing for my life to slow down a bit, for things to be put into perspective while I self-isolate at home in Minnesota. It is also allowing me to continue focusing on my work with UNICEF. Just yesterday, I was on an hour-long conference call with some of the top UNICEF officials discussing what they are doing and what needs to be done for the world’s most vulnerable children during this uncertain time. I was relieved to hear during the call that, to date, there are no confirmed cases in refugee camps. Since social distancing isn’t possible in camps, the impact of an outbreak would be devastating due to lack of resources, doctors, and supplies. I fear for the families who are now living in the same situation my family once was, in places like Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where I was born.
It’s more important now than ever that those of us with large platforms use our voices to support organizations that are making a difference. It is crucial that while schools are closing to keep people safe, that we continue to make sure children are given the opportunity of uninterrupted learning. So as parents look to maintain continuity in education, we can be a resource for them as they establish a new normal. To that end, I am working with UNICEF on a project that will feature at-home videos to teach kids something new and foster a sense of togetherness. This can be as simple as learning to play the “drums” with a spoon as a drumstick or making origami. I would like to encourage my colleagues in fashion and the community at large to join me and create a video to keep children learning with the hashtag #UCanLearn tagging @unicefusa.
As this pandemic has escalated and is now affecting everyone’s way of life, I have to come at it from an angle of gratitude. While my work in fashion and as a public speaker continues to be cancelled, one gig after another, there are people, really heroes, and organizations who are working tirelessly to combat this virus and to provide a sense of normalcy. The unpredictability of this situation instantly puts people in survival mode. In my Muslim community, and communities around the world, the topic of mental health remains quite taboo. I hope everyone will take a moment to check in on one another as we face feelings of distress, fear, and uncertainty.