Tuesday, May 10, 2011

FARAH ZULAIKHA: Exclusive Interview (Part 2)

By Eva Fydrych


Occupation: International model, socialite and humanitarian.
City: New York, US

FASHION STUDIO: You are not only a very successful model, but you also study medicine and you are actively involved in charity work. How do you find time to do everything?

FARAH: I am an individual who wears many hats. I am a top model. I am a socialite. I am a world traveler. I am a writer and a student. However, the hat of philanthropist/humanitarian is the one which I am most proud of. It brings me the greatest joy and it gives my life the most purpose. I am the happiest when I am helping others. I have been blessed with so much in my life, and I feel as though it is my duty and responsibility to aid others who are less fortunate. I have been involved in several charities. Although I am an advocate of any charity or non-profit which causes a positive change in the world, I tend to lean towards those which advocate for human rights and the betterment of my local New York City community. There is a reason for this, and it spurs from my own personal beliefs. Human rights is an issue which to me, knows no borders, no race, no boundaries. We are all human, so fighting for the fundamental human rights of our fellow man is essentially fighting for our own rights. I have a saying which I use a lot, that is translated from an old arabic proverb... "First they come for the rights of strangers, and we can turn the other cheek. Then they come for the rights of our neighbors, and we can turn the other cheek. When they come for our rights, will we have the free will to turn our cheek then?" The point is, the loss of human rights can be likened to a snowball effect, and ignorance or indifference will only intensify this snowball effect until the rights of all are compromised. I and others like myself fight for humanitarian rights for all people so that humankind may never see such a day.

I also believe that change starts in our own backyards. New York City is the place which I call home. It is my nesting ground. It is my headquarters. It has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to become successful. It was in New York City that I became a supermodel. It was in New York City where I had access to the best education that the world could offer, so that I could better myself and be more aware of the world around me. It was in New York that I had the platform to spread awareness about the causes which were most important to me, a sort of proverbial "global soapbox" which only assisted me in my lifelong desire to help others and change the world. So it was only fitting that I would support causes which strengthen my local New York City community.

I am a UNICEF volunteer and am an international citizen UNICEF ambassador with a focus on raising funds for emergency first response and disaster relief, bringing aid to such dire circumstances as the Haiti Earthquake and the devastating Pakistan floods. I am a celebrity ambassador for Entertainers 4 Education, a program designed to give back to New York City schoolchildren by providing access and workshops to these youngsters with some of their favorite stars. I recently hosted the E4EA Fundraiser in NYC where along with the combined efforts of myself and other stars such as music mogul Russell Simmons, singer Keri Hilson and rapper Juelz Santana, we raised funds for more programs to directly impact our local New York City Community.

I also recently hosted an event for the National Tay-Sachs Association (NSTAD) as the face of Stephen Seo's luxury bespoke line. As the host/emcee I along with several others helped to raise over $12,000 for Tay-Sachs research. This was extremely special for me, as Tay-Sachs is a crippling childhood disease which is literally on the cusp of a medical breakthrough in terms of a cure. It is like watching history happen right before our eyes, and I can envision a world where no more children will fall victim to Tay-Sachs. I am a member of The United Way Young Leaders Council, helping to provide aid for at-risk children right here in New York City. I am also the celebrity spokesmodel for The Nomi Network. The Nomi Network is a non-profit anti-trafficking organization based in New York City, aiming to eradicate sexual slavery by leveraging the marketplace. Nomi partners with local artisans in Cambodia to create chic and sensible products that appeal to the global marketplace. Products generate awareness and give consumers the opportunity to make a positive impact by consuming items that will create job opportunities in vulnerable communities. In September 2010 I starred in the splashy new product ad campaign for The Nomi Network's "BUY HER BAG NOT HER BODY" to benefit survivors of sexual slavery and human trafficking. These fashionable tote bags from Nomi Network are created from recycled products by survivors and at-risk women, and all sales go back to providing them with economic stability and an education.

As a young woman of middle eastern descent, human trafficking is a cause which is very near and dear to my heart. Human trafficking still exists in the eastern world and I have seen the devastation it causes even in my own homeland. If we can save even one victim of human trafficking, we have made a difference. I hope and pray each day for a world where the word "slave" is no longer a harsh reality, but an antiquated remnant of a time which has passed. I have strutted the runway for countless charity causes around the world and have lent my likeness for several charitable campaigns and endeavors. I support each of these causes wholeheartedly and it is hard to say which would be my favorite as they are all equally important for different reasons. However if I had to choose a favorite, it would be a grassroots charity which brings me back to the very beginning of my childhood and which directly shaped my future and the person I am today.

Allow me to explain... my passion for humanitarianism and philanthropy is one that was ingrained in my heart, mind and soul early on in life. My father is a world-renowned award winning physician and humanitarian. As a husband and wife team alongside my mother, my parents set out to travel from underserved community to underserved community, helping those in need anywhere at any time. Whether it was Cleveland or Kathmandu, no community was to far or too small. These completely self-funded charity medical camps were started to serve one sole purpose: to help all and turn no one away. Naturally when my sister and I were born, my parents put us to work at an early age, instilling a strong sense of responsibility... a responsibility to give back. My father made his fortune completely on his own. He left his vast ancestral land and his middle eastern title of nobility to come the United States and seek a higher education so that he could become a doctor and help others. By doing so he set an amazing example for us... that although our fate may deem us fortunate, it is the most unfortunate of souls that does not seek to share their good fortune with others. It is no secret that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth... but thanks to my parents I learned the value of taking that silver spoon and using it to feed the mouths of the less fortunate.

With my parents and sister I travelled all over the globe since childhood, setting up camp and seeing as many patients as we could until they stopped coming back. We would administer first aid, medical tests such as stress tests and EKG, heart monitors, cholesterol and blood sugar tests and distribute medicine. When it was time for us to leave a certain area, we would leave the remaining medicines with the local doctor or medic so that the people in the area could continue to come back and receive medical care. These moments were the most impactful and poignant moments of life. These people had nothing but they would give us whatever they could- handmade crafts, plants, food, even livestock! I remember a 98-year-old woman from a tribal area of Pakistan known for several Taliban sightings. She walked two miles in the blazing sun on a dirt road with a hen in a basket to give to us as payment for treating her grandson's staph infection. We all laughed as we thanked her, yet it was one of the most touching memories I have and it is one that I have carried with me for my entire life. Such experiences taught me invaluable life lessons and immeasurable gratitude. It saved me from becoming a "rich brat" which I very well could have ended up that way. It allowed me to possess the drive to save others and become a role model.

Although it is difficult to balance all of my interests, if one has the passion and drive from within, one can make it happen. But something always have to give, and that usually is my free time and leisure time spent with those that I love. It becomes a game of tug-of-war having to choose between opportunities and moments that make memories. WHILE WE CHASE SUCCESS, WE BORROW TIME FROM THE ONES WE LOVE. If I had it my way, there would be one of me for every single person I love, to be with them and care for them all the time. I love my life, I just wish there were more hours in the day to be with my loved ones... such a balancing act is the bittersweet journey we call life. I manage by trying to keep my loved ones and friends close. I try to work with people whom I am also friends with so that work doesn't seem as much like work and I can still spend time with the ones I care about. And I try to spend as much time as I can with my loved ones, so any moment I have to spare goes to them :) I am happiest when relaxing with my loved ones. As for the future, it is hard to predict, but in five years time I plan on being happy, fulfilled, healthy, and following my dreams to wherever they may lead me.

FASHION STUDIO: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

FARAH: My biggest challenge so far has been dealing with scrutiny especially while being a public figure. As one becomes more popular, one will gain more exposure and more fans... and by contrast one will also gain people who will dislike them. The age of the internet has made it so easy to criticize, and with the click of a mouse one can write anything hurtful or slanderous about others. This past winter I had an anonymous internet stalker who launched an unsuccessful internet smear campaign against me, for no apparent reason at all. This person would find any and every interview, blog post, photo, You Tube video, etc. that featured me and would write nasty comments calling me all sorts of horrible names and spreading false rumors about myself and my family. They even created a fake twitter account (I'm not on Twitter) and hacked my private Facebook page pretending to be me. This individual would send me hate mail and death threats constantly and created a hateful page on Tumblr in response to my numerous fan sites on the internet. I'm not really sure why this person was so upset with my existence and I quickly had the offensive posts/blogs removed. At the time it seemed like the worst thing that could happen and I could not grasp why someone would have such a vindictive personal vendetta against me.

But it taught me a valuable lesson: You cannot please everyone and you never will. For the countless numbers of people who love and admire and respect you there will always be some person who will hate you and try to find joy in your suffering. However it is up to you as to how much power that person has. I refused to be a victim and stayed vigilant, with the help of my amazingly supportive friends and family. A lot of credit goes to my wonderful and caring fans who really got me through it. They took to the internet in my defense, and it was then that I realized how valuable their love and support is! I always say I have the BEST fans for always "having my back" and thanks to them I came out of that scary experience as a much stronger person.

FASHION STUDIO: If you could change anything from your past what would it be?

FARAH:  I always say LIVE WITH NO REGRETS. Everything happens for a reason and your past shapes you into the person you are in your present and your future. However, if I had to change something about my past it would be to take back anything unkind that I may have ever done or said to anyone. I care about ALL people, even those who are unkind to me. I can easily turn the other cheek if someone is unkind or hurtful. But if I hurt someone else, it is a burden that always bears heavily on my heart and conscience. I would rather spread love to all than spread hatred.

FASHION STUDIO: You achieved a lot at a very young age. What advice would you give to all girls who would like to get into modelling?

FARAH: The most important piece of advice that I would give to aspiring models is to STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF. As a model, it can be very easy to be influenced by others. The lifestyle is such that one wants to fit in and be a part of the in-crowd. But you will be far more successful if you have your own mind and are strong and steadfast in your beliefs. Drug and alcohol abuse are still a reality, but just like I avoided it and became a success so can aspiring models today! Part of being a professional is being reliable. And one cannot be reliable when they are caught up in negative lifestyle choices. Part of being a model is also looking beautiful and healthy, and our looks are directly affected by our lifestyle. The longer one looks good, the longer one will last as a model. If you preserve and protect your body and don't harm it by abusing it, you will only set yourself up for longevity and success. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, pass on these it will only help you to succeed! As a model, I've been offered every drug you can think of. But just because it seems like everyone is doing it, that doesn't mean that you have to as well. You will in fact gain a good reputation by avoiding such things, and people will be even more eager to work with you, which is what I saw in my own personal experience. NEVER FORGET YOUR DIGNITY AND YOUR INTEGRITY... if you have to give that up to gain something else, it means what you are trying to gain is not worth it!

FASHION STUDIO: How would you define success? What qualities are important to be successful?

FARAH: Success has different meanings for each of us. For one person it could be a a general sense of happiness. Another might think of success as meaning making a lot of money and accumulating wealth. A third person might just see it as find a special lover or soul mate. For me to be successful is to be fulfilled. But when achieve success, you will know it. It is a feeling deep inside you. You will that you are in harmony with the world.

FASHION STUDIO: What is your dream? What else would you like to achieve in your life?

FARAH: My dream is to change the world for the better with positive influences and with love. I am working on my M.D. degree so that I may become a physician like so many of my family members and help others. have several plans to start up my own charity endeavor. One of my activities is to travel to schools across the nation to speak to young girls about issues they face growing up in modern-day society. Issues that I myself tackled while growing up in America. I feel as though society has mutated into a culture where shock value is praised over substance. Gone are the days of television shows that were both entertaining and held some sort of positive message such as The Cosby Show and Saved By The Bell... they have been replaced with mindless reality crap such as Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Bad Girls Club and The Jersey Shore. Is this all that we have to offer our youngsters? It saddens and disgusts me that kids growing up today have these examples to look up to. What kind of a message are we sending? That one can release a sex tape and become a superstar? That being drunk and promiscuous will make you popular and loved? What we have essentially done as a society is send the message that our dignity as individuals has a price tag. And this is absolutely not true! I am living proof of that.

The glitz and glamour of celebrity life is definitely great. I get to live a life that most dream of, full of flashbulbs and red carpets and fancy clothes... but I did not have to sacrifice my morals and my self-respect to attain this. And no one ever should. There's no greater tragedy than one who doesn't value themselves. I started a service for young girls called "Farah Zulaikha's Princess Power" last year. I started Princess Power because I was really frustrated at the sheer lack of suitable role models these days, particularly for young girls. I don’t even watch television anymore because I am apalled by what I see. As a society we can choose to accept it or not: the media and popular culture do have an effect on the youth. These days you turn on the TV and all you see is glorified trash. It is almost as though society has reverted back to some ancient time, where the television is like our Roman Coliseum, and the viewers are the frenzied audience that thirsts for more shock value. The more depraved it is, the better ratings these networks garner. What they don’t realize is, the message they are sending is worse than poison. This is what these young girls have these days to idolize and emulate. I’m sick of this disturbing trend and I wanted young girls out there to know this ISN’T what you have to be to feel worthy and special. You can be beautiful AND be about something substantial… because no one is more beautiful than he or she who changes the world for the better.

There is nothing more glamorous than giving back- take it from me! I was becoming even more disheartened when I would see these trends within my own career. I would get much more attention off of what designer I was wearing or how I had my hair and makeup done or which red carpet I attended. But I try to do as much as I can to help others and I have so many causes which mean so much more to me than any red carpet photo. Unfortunately the stories about my charity work took a back burner to the fluff pieces and gossip stories. I finally had enough. Change starts with one person. And just like we all have an opportunity to flip the channels on a television, I want young girls to pick up that remote and change the channel on their lives and their mindset. They don’t have to follow the wrong things or what is thrown at them in the media… I want them to flip the channel to Farah Zulaikha.


As a public figure it is a duty to set the right example and my fans are like my own family. I consider these young girls today to be my own sisters. And it’s my job as a sister to give these special young girls a chance to have someone better to look up to- because they deserve it. The girls of the world deserve better, so they can make the right decisions in their lives and ultimately make the world a better place. Because EVERY GIRL IS A PRINCESS! Princess Power is my own version of girl power. I believe that every girl is a Princess. Regardless of where you’re from, what you do, or what you look like, every girl has the potential to be a Princess. You don’t need to live in a castle or have a crown… the ability to be a Princess resides in one’s mind and one’s heart. A Princess is unique. She has her own mind, personality and style. A Princess is a girl who carries herself with dignity. A Princess is a girl who educates herself so that she is knowledgeable to her own issues and to the issues around her. A Princess cares about the world around her, recognizes and rejoices at the good, and is outraged by the injustice. And most of all, a true Princess doesn’t just sit and complain, she takes action. That is what I did when I started Princess Power. The message is, it’s great to be glamorous, it’s great to be beautiful, it’s great to shine. But we do not have to give up our ideals and our substance in order to attain this. We as young women can be better than that. We have the capability to be both beautiful and revolutionary!

FASHION STUDIO: What is happiness for you? Do you remember your happiest moment ever? 

FARAHIn the Middle East we have an old proverb which states "Happiness Lies At The Feet Of Our Mothers." It basically means happiness comes from the family. My definition of complete happiness is to be surrounded by my family. I am fortunate enough to have my loving family to give me endless love and support. There is no greater happiness than a mother's touch or a father's warm embrace. There is no greater happiness than having a best friend who is also your sister. So for me, any time I am with my family is my happiest moment all over again! Money cannot buy love. Fame and success cannot bring back a loved one who has passed on. A family is a losing commodity. As morbid as it sounds, we are all human, and as each day passes, that is one day less that we have to love one another. So while we are lucky enough to have true happiness we should cherish it.

FASHION STUDIO:  The meaning of life... What is really important for you?

FARAH: What makes our lives is the actions that we commit while living it. With the gift of life we are all given the priceless opportunity to make a mark on the world. It is up to each one of us as to what kind of an impact we make upon the world. We are born, we live, and we die just like so many before us. It is up to us to leave our legacy and it is up to us how we are remembered or if we are even remembered at all. I want to be remembered as a beautiful person who loved life and loved humankind and as someone who changed the world for the better. For me, this purpose is the true meaning of life and if I can even help one person that means my life meant something.
By Eva Fydrych
All photos courtesy of Farah Zulaikha

Read other parts of the interview: Part 1, Part 3




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