Maseno University

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It is on a Wednesday afternoon, call it Ladies’ Night, busy with my journalistic chores in a restaurant, a text message pops on my phone screen.

“Am done with classes and now heading there for the interview…” The message reads in part. It is from Miss Maseno 2013 as I wait anxiously to meet her for an interview.

She needs no introduction because people around mostly students and staff seem to know her very well especially in modeling. Her smile radiates pure simplicity that charms everyone seated as she enters the restaurant heading to where am seated for an interview. Meet Miss Maseno, Leah Tesfamariam, a big hearted second year student in International Relations and Diplomacy at Maseno University.

When she speaks, her soft-spoken voice, penetrating eyes, poise, intonation, calm, connective chuckles and smooth churn of words with an American accent is a statement of confidence and self-assuredness that indeed she deserves to be Miss Maseno and that she’s set for the long interview. But who is this beauty pageant rocking the world?

Born 21 years ago in Bamburi, Mombasa to Mr. BrahaneTesfamariam and Mrs  AsliSium of Eritrean and Arabian origins respectively, Leah is the second born in a family of four  (2 brothers and 2 sisters). Raised in a humble Christian (Catholics) setting with parents involved in church activities, she grew up as a humble and a well-disciplined lady.

She attended Aga Khan primary school before transferring to Bashir primary school where she sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in 2006. She later joined Mama Ngina Girls High and while in Form Three in 2009, she got a one year Leadership Scholarship to The United States of America.
The beauty pageant shares the journey with a brilliant smile on her face: “While in the U.S, I had to continue with my studies by joining the American system and did the equivalent of Form Four in 2010 then came back to Kenya to complete my O-level in 2011 and scored a mean grad of A- (Minus) to secure a chance at Maseno to pursue what am doing now from September 2012.”
“Why study International Relations and Diplomacy?” I interrupted.
She stares at me as if she has remembered something then says: “My dream wasn’t to deal with international relations but modeling is what propelled me to take the course. Initially, I wanted to do business-related course because where I come from, people have gone business way!”   

Leah during the Miss World Kenya beauty contest at Safari Park Hotel.

Leah, a born-again charming lady admits that she never thought of becoming a model one day and recalls an interesting episode on how she started modeling.

“When I was in Form One, I fell sick and had to lose weight,” she continues after a sigh of relief with a smile, “I didn’t know that this was the beginning of the long journey in modeling. After recovering there was a beauty contest called Miss Culture in our school of which I did participate.”

Miss Maseno admits that if it was not her friends’ encouragement, she would not have participated. She was the second runner’s up and this earned her scholarship two years later. Her modeling star started shining brighter while in the U.S where her host family saw the model in her and enrolled her at John Casablanca School of Modeling in 2009.

The model says, climbing the modeling ladder has not been easy at all given her parents’ strong cultural background that restricts a girl child from what she calls ‘exposing’ her to the world through modeling.
“My dad never accepted the idea of modeling,” she remarks, “but I had to soldier on because I had discovered what I wanted and in life nothing comes on a silver plate.”

In April 2012, she quietly sneaked in Miss Kenya auditions at White Sand Hotel without her parents’ knowledge and emerged top and earned her another one month workshop in the U.S later in August!

When she joined Maseno University in September 2012, her colleagues in first year encouraged her to go for Miss Maseno contest and when the opportunity came, she threw in the towel and believe me you, she was crowned Miss Maseno in March 2013. She got a lot of support from her predecessor Miss Siphrosa, whom she is much grateful. In June 2013, Leah went for Miss Kenya auditions and emerged among the top 16 contestants who were in the Academy in Kiambu for one month. She survived the grueling elimination show spanning one month to reach the top. Finals were held in July at Safari Park and she was first runner’s up after Miss. Wangoi Gitonga who emerged top. This changed her father’s mind and he had to accept what she does. She recalls it in nostalgia!

Her success

Just at 21, the model has hit the world catwalk stage all the way from America to Kenya with her original beauty made from her mother’s hearth in Bamburi! Meanwhile, on the national scene, the pageant is already working with other beauty queens and organizations and goodwill friends to promote quality life by empowering children, youth and women because she believes these are the key determinants of development within a country, continent and globally.

During the long break from the University, the model lives in Kisumu and participates in anti-malaria campaign with World-Rep organization. She has won a designer – Pamela Classic Comfort.

Leah is a peer counselor and also a Radio presenter at Equator FM Radio station of Maseno University. Modeling has seen her go places. She was at the State House during Mashujaa Day, attended Fashion week at Hilton Hotel Nairobi in August 2013, Wonderland event at Michael Joseph Centre, Zetech College beauty contest and launching of The Tusker Project Fame season 6.

It has earned her fame but the major challenge is that the number of friends keeps skyrocketing and she still has to maintain the friendship without allowing them into her personal life.
“Once you allow people in your personal life you are done,” she says.

Celebrated beauty pageant at national functions.

Future plans

The beauty has a lot in store. She has received an invitation from Mr. Nick Odera, the Franchise Manager of Miss University, Kenya for Inter-University beauty contest from November 27, to December 6, 2013 at KICC.

In addition, she has plans in conjunction with Coca-Cola Company and an Eldoret-based NGO to fight Fistula disease in Western Kenya (from Kisii to Mount Elgon) through a campaign called 5 to 20 million, that targets empowering 20 million women after 5 years through income generating opportunities.  The program is set to roll early next year.

The lady with the heart of gold believes charity begins at home and she is very grateful to her parents and more so her father for finally accepting her participation in modeling. With her crown as Miss Maseno, she is organizing for a clean-up in the University neighborhood, health facilities and commercial centers including Nyawita and Mabungo.

Leah aims at being Miss Kenya and work with the United Nations as a Diplomat and Kenyan ambassador.
As we wind up our interview, she applauds the Maseno University administration through the Dean of Students Mr. Edward Olela for the overwhelming continuous material and moral support that she has received.