Ethiopian Supermodel Raises Money for African Village Women

Jan. 26, 2007 — -- Ethiopia is not a place usually associated with glamour, beauty and sophistication, but superstar model Liya Kebede has single-handedly changed that.

With her good looks, the 28-year-old Ethiopian knockout is one of the fashion world's "it" girls and the first black woman chosen as the face of Estee Lauder.

Despite her wild success, Kebede is not content to simply grace the catwalks and live in luxury. Instead, she's now focusing on the poor African villages she left behind.

"For me, Ethiopia is such a nice place. I mean, really, it was such a nice place to grow up," she said. "It's a really poor country and it's very sad that's such a poor country, but the people are so proud, also."

Now an ambassador for the World Health Organization, Kebede, a mother of two children, spends her spare time working to improve the lives of African women, especially those in their childbearing years. She's even formed a foundation to raise money for medical care.

To find out more about the Liya Kebede Foundation click here.

While the image of a supermodel is often the spoiled diva, Kebede feels the need to give back.

"I think it's just that. … I'm from there, and I know that it's just a matter of luck in a way, also, on how your life can just be twisted, you know, around so easily," she said. "It could be me. It easily can be me. Easily."

Kebede proves that you can take the girl out of Ethiopia, but you can't entirely take Ethiopia out of the girl.

Case in point: When she and her husband, Kassie, were expecting their first child in the United States, she was filled with the panic that pregnant women in Ethiopia feel so often.

"Every minute, there's one woman who dies from pregnancy and childbirth complications, every minute of the day," she said. "That's a lot of women."

During a recent visit to a poor Ethiopian village, the women she met had no inkling that they were in the presence of a famous model. They only knew that this stranger spoke their language and was one of them.

"They don't really know at first. … Why I'm there, what I'm trying to do," she said. "But when we start talking and they really start opening up and they. … And then they understand, I think, what we're all trying to do."

"There was no doubt in my mind that I had to do something," she said. "You don't know how, you don't know what, but you know you want to do something."

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