Waris Dirie was born into a nomad family living in the Somali desert near the border to Ethiopia in 1965. At the tender age of five, she was forced to undergo the inhuman procedure of female genital mutilation. This horrible tradition is still practiced in many countries around the world today – by both by Moslems and Christians. According to records kept by the United Nations more than 8000 girls become victims of this heinous crime every day.
At the age of 13, after being forced to marry a man who was old enough to be her grandfather Waris fled her homeland. After a daring escape and many tribulations, she arrived in London and initially found employment as a housemaid and later at a McDonald’s.
SUPERMODEL AND BONDGIRL
At the age of 18 she was discovered by one of Britain’s leading fashion photographers, Terence Donovan, who thought she would be the perfect model. She quickly became an international celebrity.
She was given a part in a James Bond epic, the blockbuster “The Living Daylights”, starring Timothy Dalton as 007.
In 1996 the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed Waris Dirie a UN Special Ambassador for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She has traveled the world extensively for the UN, participated in numerous conferences on the subject, met with national leaders, Nobel Prize-winners, international stars, gaining support for this important issue as well as generating large donations for the UN.
DESERT FLOWER – BLOCKBUSTER
1997 Harper Collins in New York published Waris Dirie’s biography “Desert Flower”. The book quickly became an international bestseller. In the meantime the book has been published in 65 licensed editions, was number 1 on the bestseller lists in many countries (in Germany, for example, the book stayed in the Top Ten list of best-selling books published in the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ for a total of 120 weeks) and has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.
DESERT FLOWER FOUNDATION
In 2002 she founded her own foundation, named Waris Dirie Foundation, based in Vienna/Austria, to support her work as a campaigner against FGM. In 2010, the Foundation was re-named “Desert Flower Foundation” to reflect the broader approach to addressing Female Genital Mutilation though economic projects in Africa.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
Waris Dirie has received many prestigious prizes and awards for her work and books, such as the “Women’s World Award” by President Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2007 the French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented her with the “Chévalier de la Légion d’Honneur”. The ‘World Demographic Association’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Prix de la Gènèration’ and the ‘Martin Buber Foundation’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Martin Buber Gold Medal’.
DESERT FLOWER – THE FEATURE FILM
In March 2008 producer and Oscar-winner Peter Hermann (“Nowhere in Africa”) commenced with the shooting of “Desert Flower” (the budget: USD 16 Mio). The initial filming took place in Djibouti with mostly amateur actors. Further locations included New York, Berlin and London. Waris Dirie served as associate producer for the film, which was directed by Sherry Hormann.