Beauty

Model Ubah Hassan Raises An Umbrella To Help East Africa

The Canadian beauty raises an umbrella to help her homeland

Model Ubah Hassan Raises An Umbrella To Help East Africa

Photo Courtesy of Oxfam America

Model Ubah Hassan Raises An Umbrella To Help East Africa

Photo Courtesy of Oxfam America

Model Ubah Hassan Raises An Umbrella To Help East Africa

Photo Courtesy of Oxfam America

Ubah Hassan’s modelling career is marked with Ralph Lauren campaigns and Steven Meisel editorials. Yet the Somalia-born, Vancouver-raised Canadian has even bigger goals in mind. This spring, Hassan, 28, wields an umbrella not to model, but to save lives. As president and co-founder of a charitable organization called Maji Umbrellas, she is working in partnership with Oxfam America to help provide clean drinking water throughout East Africa, from the sale of a simple umbrella.  

What was it like when you first came to Toronto at age 14?
There was snow and it was very cold. We stayed in a shelter for eight months—it was a big room with one bathroom, three beds and a microwave, which is the best thing ever invented.

Was it the first time you had seen snow? Yes! I honestly went out and ate the snow. I couldn’t believe it.

You split your time between New York and Vancouver—what do you like most about B.C.? 
Hiking, camping, skiing. I can drive to Whistler [and see] the most surreal view.

What makes Canada feel like home?
Being on [Canadian] soil…it’s like someone is holding me, supporting me. It’s like they’re cheering.

How did you get started in modelling?
A photographer saw me in Minoru Park in Richmond, B.C. I went to New York with $150 cash and I didn’t know a soul. I was terrified, excited. I went to a models’ apartment—two tiny bedrooms with four bunk beds—and I was like, Is this a shelter again? [laughs]

What has been the highlight of your career?
The first Italian Vogue all-black issue [July 2008]. I was done in less than five minutes. I thought, This guy Steven Meisel, I really disappointed him. But when the issue came out, I was like, My name is on the cover! I started getting work [after that].

What prompted you to start your organization?
The news [about the drought] was everywhere and I thought, I need to do something. [In Somalia] there can be no water for weeks. You have to go to another area to get water; it’s an entire-day event. Nowadays I wake up and the first thing I do is drink a glass of water. Imagine not being able to do that?

Why umbrellas?
We are hoping that when people carry it, they can say, “We are making a difference,” and that people are humble enough to know that [while they might hate] the rain, there are people who are praying for it.

Watch Now:
Ubah Hassan on the street with her Maji Umbrellas to support Oxfam America’s work in the Horn of Africa.