Angela Wambui Muiruri, 26, is Miss Kenya USA 2010-2011, she talks to SHIRLEY GENGA about her life as a Kenyan living in America and how she won the title
Were you born in Kenya?
I was born and raised in Seattle Washington although both my parents are Kenyan. I am the eldest in a family of five girls. Even though I was not born in Kenya, my parents brought us up in a way that we were able to appreciate everything Kenyan. So from a very young age I had a big appreciation for Africa. My parents own an African art business called Kilimanjaro. It sells African art, jewellery and musical instruments. I have been working there after school since I was five. I had a wonderful childhood and like any big family, we fought a lot with my sister but out of love. I am the eldest, so of course, I always had the pressure to set an example for my four sisters.
Do you visit Kenya often?
We would come to Githurini, Kiambu every summer and stay with our grandparents for a month. I have always had love for ushago life, it is simple and authentic; you get to see where things like bananas come from. Back in the US, you never get to see things like that. Visiting our grandparents we were able to learn Kikuyu, learn how to catch kuku and just do things we never did in Seattle. I appreciate the simple life we experienced because we were able to have a global perspective on life not just the hustle and bustle of Seattle. While Seattle is full of fast paced technology the farm life the land is beautiful, with rich food and a strong sense of culture.
How did you get into the Miss Kenya USA pageant? Angela Wambui Muiruri
Angela Wambui Muiruri
I saw it being advertised online. I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. The competition is a platform for Kenyan people to not only shine but to inspire. I also wanted to prove that I was Kenyan because people often say that I do not sound or look Kenyan and this was the perfect platform.
Tell as a little about the pageant?
It is not only about beauty but about service too. One is judged on talent, culture and speech. I did spoken word as my talent and I won Miss Culture for my evening wear that my mother made. I was pleasantly surprised that I was named the 2010-2011 Miss Kenya USA.
Was this your first pageant?
No, I had participated in pageants since I was 17. I got into pageantry because they always offer scholarships plus they provide training in finance, fashion and public speaking. In one pageant, every girl won $500 (Sh41,375) just for participating. I won Miss Pierce County (Washington) when I was 17.
As a teenager, participating in the pageants helped me develop confidence. I remember when I would go for pageants, I was often the thickest girl but I still participated. It helped me to love myself and to be comfortable in my skin.
What did you study in campus?
After high school I went to Pepperdine University in Malibu (LA) where I did a double BA in Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications and graduated in 2008. Initially, I wanted to be a doctor and majored in Biology but ended up attending communications class and I was won over. Also I guess business was always in my blood, from my parents.
Where did you work after graduating?
After University I landed a job at local station as a branding assistant on a show recognising children who were doing something to better the community. Children who were using their talents and influence to bring about positive change in the community. I stayed for a while but soon left because life in LA is just too expensive.
Tell us about; My Africa is Beautiful?
It is a campaign and organisation that I started back in 2010. The purpose of, ‘My Africa is Beautiful’ is to transform the image that people have of Africa. People abroad have this image of Africa that is all about poverty, hunger and disease but that is not all Africa is about. The purpose of my organisation is to create a wholesome image of Africa.
What else does the campaign focus on?
It also focuses on investing and in inspiring young people with regard to education, development and technology. I believe that these three elements when properly utilised will enable young people in Africa to compete on a global level. I strongly believe the youth are a great investment and we cannot talk about vision 2030 or development if we are not investing in young people.
How did ‘My Africa is Beautiful’ begin?
It began as a micro-project to help educate children living in IDP camps in Gilgil in 2010. I visited a number of IDP camps and I asked the children what was the one thing I could do for them and they told me that all they wanted was to go back to school. So I pledged to take 100 children to school. I have managed to take 35 children to high school; I pay for everything from school fees to school books to school uniforms. I try to visit as often as I can to see how they are doing. I want to inspire them so they can see themselves as victors and not victims.
How do you get funding for your project?
My own money, I MC and do presentations in school about Africa. I also invite people over for tea and mandazi and tell them about my projects.
What are you currently doing back in Kenya?
I came to Kenya in early January and will be leaving soon but I have had the privilege of visiting over 20 schools to motivate and encourage young people. It is amazing the sense of hope you can inspire in someone by just spending time with him or her. We are here to inspire a generation of change.
Apart from your organisation, what do you do for a living?
I am working in the family business. In addition to our Kilimanjaro shop, the family business has expanded to have three adult homes and I manage one. Working with older people has taught me a lot of patience and appreciation for life and family.
What do you admire most about your parents?
I am glad my parents were entrepreneurs because growing up, we got to enjoy their company, back in the States people who are employed work long hours and are never home.
Any advice for young girls?
Be fearless about your dreams and driven by your passion. And when it comes to guys there is no hurry, wait for the man who will treat you like a queen. Respect your body and mind.
You are have also become a cultural ambassador of sorts...
When you are young you want to be like everyone else and at elementary level I knew I was different because my mum would pack me chapatis and mandazi. For a while, I hated being different but by the time I was nine I had embraced my difference and even did a presentation on Kenya. I still do cultural presentations in middle schools and high schools in Seattle. A lot of times the teachers do not know much about Africa so they never know what to teach and I would be called upon to educate students about Africa. I tell them stories, bring African artefacts and teach them a little Swahili and in return they donate something to my organisation. I learnt the art of storytelling at my parents shop. When people abroad buy things they like to know the story behind an item so while working at the shop during my childhood holidays I learnt how to give presentations.
What are your plans for the future?
I see myself coming back to Kenya and starting an East African Advertisement Agency.
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