Posted on March 22, 2016 in Press Releases

RF222227_Medium_res_Social_Media.jpegMarch 31, 2016 (Washington) – On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, supermodel and former refugee Alek Wek will join the Arab American Institute Foundation’s annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards to recognize UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, with the Gibran Award for International Commitment. 

Wek, who was forced to flee South Sudan as a child, knows the refugee struggle first-hand. The seventh of nine children, she remembers crossing a river on a makeshift raft, hiding in abandoned homes to shelter from the violence and the hunger and fear that comes with walking endlessly in search of safety.

After eventually settling in the UK, Wek was discovered in a London park by a modeling agent and became a trailblazer in the fashion industry. Wek has sought to use her platform to advance the concerns of refugees, especially women and children as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.

As the UN Refugee Agency works to confront the largest refugee crisis since its founding, with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced in every region of the world and operations in 125 countries, the Arab American Institute Foundation is proud to honor the work of UNHCR. 

“It is true that Alek Wek is a star of the runways, magazine covers and one of the most beautiful and influential faces in the world, but to us, an Arab American community with so many of our own refugee stories, what means the most is her journey and that she has not forgotten those in need,” said Maya Berry, AAIF Executive Director. “Refugees are often not able to speak for themselves. Alek Wek gives voice to their struggle and their very real need. We are delighted that she will be joining us to recognize UNHCR at this critical time.”

“My story is proof that refugees are all around us. What they want, is what anyone wants, health; education; jobs and a future for their families,” said Wek.  “At this critical time, when so many millions are struggling for survival, the work of UNHCR has never been more important and more rightly recognized than now.  I am proud to be a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and I am proud to celebrate and honour their vital work to support and protect the millions who have been forced to flee their homes.

The Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards was launched in 1999 to recognize individuals, corporations, organizations and communities whose work, commitment and support make a difference in promoting coexistence and inclusion in all walks of life. The awards are named for the author of The Prophet, whose message of human endurance and triumph was so evident in his life and work. The awards further symbolize Gibran’s pride in his Arab heritage, respect for the freedom he found in the United States and his universal love of humanity.

Past participants in the awards gala include former President Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Noor al-Hussein, actress Selma Heyak, former President of Poland Lech Walesa, former Sen. George Mitchell, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former professional boxer Muhammad Ali, and recording star Sting.


WHAT: 18th annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala

WHO: Supermodel Alek Wek will joinmembers of Congress, Arab American community members, current and former public officials, the diplomatic corps, and the business community to honor UNHCR

HONOREES INCLUDE:    UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency; Unite Lebanon Youth Project, The Honorable Suzanne Sareini and actor Jamie Farr

WHERE: Omni Shoreham Hotel 2500 Calvert St, NW Washington, D.C.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 
Reception 5:30 p.m. | Gala dinner 6:30 p.m.

MEDIA CONTACT:; 202-429-9210


About AAIF: The Arab American Institute Foundation’s goal is to encourage, recognize, and celebrate Arab American participation in American civic life, and to cultivate and mobilize a strong, educated, empowered Arab American community that can play a meaningful role in developing and improving U.S. policies. A not-for-profit affiliate of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Foundation supports programs that promote greater awareness of Arab Americans in the United States, demographic research and international outreach. The AAIF serves as the primary national resource on the Arab American experience for the media, academia, government agencies and the private sector. Through its numerous outreach programs, the AAIF builds leadership skills among students and young professionals and informs the American public, government agencies and organizations about the contributions and concerns of Americans of Arab descent.