Photography by Ash Barhamand for Yahoo Style

As far as modeling careers go, Alek Wek’s has been, in a word, aspirational. The 38-year-old has walked the runway as Chanel’s haute couture bride, landed a Gilles Bensimon-shot cover of Elle, and had one of her first photo shoots with the late Herb Ritts, completely in the buff (“I was like 19, 20 years old,” she says, “and was like, ‘noooooo!! Is he a pervert?!’ And my agent’s just like… ‘NO!’”)

But before becoming one of the most recognizable women in the modeling world (she was discovered as an art history student while painting in a London park her second year of college), she was a refugee, having lived through a bloody civil war in her home country of Sudan. Though she was fortunate enough to have a mother who recognized the value in education for her children and took time to boil their drinking water before they consumed it, Wek saw many others who did not. “I’ve seen mothers and children really being vulnerable in the refugee camps; it’s supposed to be temporary, but they end up having children who have grown up in refugee camps. And there are girls who, if they have their [menstrual] cycles, they can’t go to school,” she tells Yahoo Style.

It’s those first-hand experiences that inspired her to become an ambassador for H&M’s Conscious Foundation, a title she’s held for two years. To raise awareness for the foundation, which aims at global change regarding education, women’s rights, and clean water in third world countries, Wek chose to wear a gown from H&M’s sustainable Conscious Exclusive collection to the 2015 CFDA Awards—generally considered fashion’s Oscars.

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SOURCE: Yahoo Style