When I first traveled to South Africa, it changed me. I had heard about the country in school, but the textbooks did not prepare me for the experience I had with the people I met there. They were warm, genuine, and couldn’t care less that I was there shooting for Vogue. With all the paparazzi and drama I receive back at home, it can be easy to forget the human side of life. In the sanctity of South Africa, I could be human again.
I was so moved by my experience traveling throughout the country that I asked my agency to extend my time there. They agreed, and I spent an extra week working with abandoned children. Some of the photographers stayed behind with me, taking pictures as I read with the children and played games. It was an amazing experience that I wanted to share with the world.
Some people may wonder why I would choose to stay in South Africa at an orphanage instead of flying home and resting for my next project. The truth is, I wanted to do something that mattered. When I saw those poor children’s faces, I knew I could help them. I was able to expose their lives to the world simply because I was a model. How could I ignore that opportunity?
As models, we are always in the spotlight. People look to us and some want to be like us. When I was in South Africa, I knew that I could help the world if I simply shared my experience with it. I mean, if people were so interested in my life and allowed me to have the influence that I have, shouldn’t I use that influence for good?
My time at the shoot was documented and shared on my social media. As a result, the orphanage received thousands of dollars in donations from my fans. The children now have new clothes, books, and toys. I often think back on my memory of some of the children and picture their smiles as they open their toys and play in their new clothes. It makes me smile and pushes me to keep working as an ambassador for others like them.
The week in South Africa was a few years ago, but I haven’t stopped seeking out people who need help. I now regularly request a little extra time when I travel so that I can find new ways to ‘do good’. There are plenty of people needing help that the world never hears about. I am lucky enough to meet these beautiful people, and I want to share their stories whenever I can.
For me, doing this isn’t something special; it’s an obligation. My career has allowed me to be a citizen of the world. My success at it has given me lots of influence. I’m just combining the two things to help those who don’t have enough influence. I guess you can call me a model citizen.