IN MY 40s...
I GOT LIGHT ON MY FEET
Keeping up with my career, my eight children (ages 5 to 24), overseeing my children's charity and taking care of my ailing parents was so much, I forgot about taking care of me. For eight years I put on about 5 lbs. a year. All of a sudden I was 40 lbs. overweight. My son told me, "Mom, the No. 1 killer for women is heart disease." My grandmother, mom and dad all died of it. I was a ticking time bomb. It was hard to get started losing weight, but doing Dancing with the Stars gave me the motivation. The reward of doing Dancing, besides the fact that I lost weight, was that I realized anything is possible at any age. Thousands of women e-mailed me, writing things like "Thank you for reminding me that life isn't over." They would tell me about taking dance classes or art classes—one woman learned to fly a plane! Now I'm very at peace with my life. I love having my figure back; I love having my energy back. In the new show I'm doing with my brother Donny in Vegas, there's some serious dancing. Let's just say that he's old and I'm young. He was like, "What...?" And I got the moves right away. I can hit the dance floor any time I want.
IN MY 50s...
HELPING CHILDREN WITH AIDS
The seed was planted in 2000, when I read about mothers in Africa transmitting AIDS to their babies through breastfeeding. That shocked me. I was pregnant with my daughter Alexandria, so the vulnerability of knowing the disease was even spreading that way was heartbreaking. Five years later, the founder of Keep a Child Alive, which delivers AIDS medications to Africa, contacted me. I wanted to be part of something that small: Whatever money they raise goes directly to the ground. I come from a country, Somalia, going through a civil war, and I have never been interested in big bureaucracy or going through governments. As a Global Ambassador, my concern is to educate people about antiretroviral drugs. In the West, AIDS is a manageable disease, as long as people take the medication. In Africa they cannot pay for the medication. It's mind-boggling to know, as a mother, that medicine is out there to save your child but you cannot afford it. There's a lot of heartbreak involved, and it's hard not to be paralyzed with fear. But at this stage of my life, life is too short. When you hit 50, one thing happens: You know your mortality. You know that you don't have much time left. What are you going to do with it?
I AM AFRICAN
TO HELP KEEP A CHILD ALIVE VISIT IAMAFRICAN.COM. WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW.
IN MY 60s...
BRINGING ATTENTION TO GENOCIDE IN SUDAN
I have 14 children—some adopted from conflict zones—and I'd been going to Africa since 1994, so I wasn't unaware of suffering. But going to Darfur in 2004 deepened my knowledge. When you see a child's skull hacked with a machete, it's a different level of knowing than reading about it. I met a woman, Helena, in a refugee camp who clasped my hands and said, "Tell people that we are being slaughtered here." There is no more powerful plea than Save us! We will all be killed. But what could I do? I began writing op-eds, I went to Congress, to campuses, to courtrooms, and I set up a Web site with the latest information and pictures. I promised that I would do my utmost to tell what is happening. This is what I can do for Darfur.