As a mom, I often look at my children and wonder what they will look like or what they will be like when they grow up. With my biological sons, I look at relatives from my family and my husband’s as sources for part of the answer. Will my son share my dad’s quirky nature? Will my son be fun loving and adventurous like my husband’s favorite cousin? Or will he be a photographer like my favorite cousin? Or more likely which combination of characteristics will they exhibit from an number of people? As they grow and mature, I see different characteristics and tendencies. Their interests, hopes and dreams evolve over time too.
With my daughter who is from Ethiopia (pictured above looking every bit the princess she is in our house), I still see our family in her. .even though she has different biology. I see her younger brother’s love of food, music and dance. I see her older brother’s fascination with the animal kingdom and his sweet caregiver tendencies. I also realize that I can’t know some of the possibilities for her since I don’t know her biological family. To fill in those gaps, I found myself looking at picture of Ethiopians in the news or in my day to day life for potential clues. Occasionally, I see a face or a gesture from one of them that remind me of Leyla. When Leyla was recently home, I saw a lovely model gracing the pages of a magazine I was reading. I thought maybe Leyla will grow up and look something like her. They had a similar bone structure. As I read the article, I was pleased to learn that this model was Ethiopian.
Her name is Liya Kebede and she has an inspiring story. She used her celebrity and wealth to reach back and help those less fortunate in her country in a variety of ways. Liya was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has commented that the modeling industry in Ethiopia is quite different. For example, in Ethiopia she had to provide her own shoes for a runway show. In 2003, she became the face of Estée Lauder cosmetics, the first Ethiopian in the company's history. Liya is one of a handful of African models featured in major magazines and fashion shows.
In 2005, Kebede was appointed as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. During her acceptance speech for the 2005 UN Day Award, she called out the need for focus on women and children’s issues:
"Every day we hear about the dangers of cancer, heart disease and AIDS. But how many of us realize that, in much of the world, the act of giving life to a child is still the biggest killer of women of child-bearing age? That over half a million die every year? Or that 3 million babies are stillborn? Or that another 4 million die during the first days and weeks of life?"
In 2009, Liya starred in the film-adaption of the bestselling autobiography Desert Flower by former supermodel Waris Dirie. The film recounts Waris's childhood in Somalia, her rise to stardom and subsequent awareness campaign against female circumcision. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received a standing ovation.
She founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, whose mission is to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality in Ethiopia and around the world. Her Foundation funds awareness raising projects as well as provides direct support for low-cost technologies, community-based education, and training and medical programs. In 2009, Liya worked with the Gates Foundation as part of their Living Proof Project. Liya served as a High-Level adviser for the Center for Global Development’s 2009 report "Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health." She writes for the Huffington Post about maternal and child health. She is part of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation, an organization led by former Botswana President Festus Mogae which advocate for increased HIV prevention and treatment in Africa.
In 2008, Liya also launched Lemlem, a clothing line to help preserve the art of traditional weaving and bring sustainable economic development to Ethiopia. Lemlem, which means “to bloom” in Amharic, features hand-spun, woven and embroidered women and children’s clothing.
For each of my children, I hope they take the best of their biology and their environment to develop themselves into a caring, multi dimensional people that leave the world a little better place than they found it. In Liya Kebede (and Waris Dirie), I see that kind of person. I look forward to the unique journey that each of my children will take. I realize Leyla’s journey will be similar in many ways to her brothers but also include more unknowns for her and me. I hope she will find people to inspire her as she develops into her best self. I can already tell her that she inspires people with her shiny deep black eyes that seek out eye contact and hold it and with her laugh that makes you just want to laugh with her. In addition to my hope for my children that they find people to inspire them, I also hope they will become people who inspire others.
I found a paperweight over the weekend with a great Maya Angelou quote that I intend to give Leyla when she is older:
“Dream. Let nothing dim the light that shines from within.” It’s that light that inspires others, in my humble opinion, and I see it shining in each of my children.