Supermodel Natalia Vodianova’s Annual Fundraising Fair Is Almost Here

Supermodel Natalia Vodianova launched The Fund Fair three years ago and in doing so, has already raised over £1m for her charity, The Naked Heart Foundation, supporting disadvantaged families in her native Russia and beyond. The annual event, which Natalia co-hosts with fellow supermodel Karlie Kloss, will take place this year on February 21st at London’s Roundhouse. Here, she explains the motivations behind her philanthropical activities.

Natalia Vodianova and Karlie Kloss

What inspired you to set the Naked Heart Foundation?

I started the Foundation back in 2004 after the Beslan school siege tragedy. I had a very simple idea; if those children, young survivors of the terrible attack, could be distracted by play for at least five minutes each day, it would help them to heal. I felt that providing them with safe and colourful outdoor play facilities would redefine their city landscape and act as a form of therapy. Having grown up in poverty in urban Russia I well understood the importance of play and the devastating consequences of being deprived of such a basic necessity. So that’s how we started building inclusive play parks and playgrounds, where children of all ages and abilities are always welcome.

How has the charity evolved since its beginnings?

Initially our work was focused just around the ‘Play with Purpose’ programme – we strived to provide every child in urban Russia with a safe and stimulating play environment. And then in 2011 we launched the ‘Every Child Deserves a Family’ programme with a goal to end Russia’s long-standing tradition of placing children with special needs and learning disabilities in closed institutions. This cause is very personal to me as I spent my childhood looking after my sister, who had cerebral palsy and deep autism. This programme has since become a very big part of my charity’s work and shaped the Foundation’s mission – to help build an inclusive society open to people with disabilities and special needs, through encouraging play and creation of free support services for disadvantaged families.

Natalia Vodianova

How do you balance your work in the fashion industry with your charitable endeavours?

Both my family and the fashion industry are incredibly supportive of the cause I promote and provide invaluable input in my charity initiatives. The brands I work with have offered the most incredible support to the Naked Heart Foundation since its inception and every year we get more and more friends willing to help us make a difference in the lives of children with special needs. Guerlain has been sponsoring Naked Heart Foundation’s participation in the Paris Half Marathon for eight years now and donated a part of the proceeds from the sale of their Shalimar collection to the charity; Louis Vuitton has given us a truly amazing opportunity to hold our fifth ‘The Art of Giving’ Love Ball fundraiser at the premises of the Fondation Louis Vuitton last July; Russian clothing brand ZARINA created a fashion collection based on the patterns developed by young adults with autism from our partner organisation. I could be naming such examples for hours; they are all working across different levels – it’s not just about financial support, but also about their help in raising awareness of the cause, giving voice to people with special needs, and so on. All of these things are equally important and I’m grateful to the industry for helping me grow the charity work I do, rather than holding me back.

Last year’s Fund Fair event

What have been some of your proudest moments with the charity so far?

I think it’s the change in attitudes towards people with special needs, people like my younger sister. When growing up with her, I could not even dream about the changes I witness now. A year and a half ago my sister and her carer were asked to leave a small cafe in my hometown of Nizhny Novgorod. It was an outrageous accident, which 10 or 20 years ago no one would have paid any attention to, but in summer 2015 suddenly society reacted and all the Russian press covered this barbaric event. Even the authorities were interested. I think it’s astonishing that we’ve now witnessed such a huge change in attitudes. Then, of course, there are some major achievements we’ve made in the field of inclusive education in Russia. We’re pioneers in this and work with state schools in order to give access to education to those children who were once considered ‘unteachable’. In this project, we’re mostly working with children with deep autism, a lot of whom are non-verbal. In the beginning it was an issue for such children just to enter the school or classroom, let alone listen to the teacher and do their homework. Now, they make great progress in studies, but most importantly – they enjoy school. All of this gives me so much joy, and I wish such services were possible when Oxana was born. It’s all very early stages and there’s so much yet to be done, before one day we finally wake up in a fully inclusive world open to all regardless of their physical, mental or intellectual abilities, but I prefer to have a positive outlook and believe we’re on the right track.

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