Meet Margaret Muchemi. A fast-rising commercial and runway model, make-up artist, former Miss Kajiado County, and Miss Supranational Kenya 2015, Margaret is taking the modelling and beauty industry by storm. I first met Margaret in a small primary school in Maragua where we both studied. She had transferred in from another school, and she was one class ahead of me. By sheer coincidence, we ended up attending the same high school. She was in form 2 then and a prefect, and when she found out that I had been accepted into Kenya High, she went out of her way to make me feel welcome and at home there. She even waited for my arrival and personally showed me around! Now, Margaret, or as she's fondly referred to by friends, Maggie, is wrapping up her studies at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) as she prepares to head to Harvard where she was accepted on a partial scholarship (details of which are being ironed out). Clearly, Maggie is not your average model/youth. Here she is, in her own words.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Margaret Muchemi, I grew up in Kajiado, studied at the Trinity School in Maragua and later at Kenya High School and I'm now at JKUAT in my final year studying financial engineering.
One could say that your modelling career started when you participated in several modelling events while still in high school. What piqued your interest in modelling?
I honestly did not believe that I could be a model but I realized that I loved to catwalk after having to participate in several mandatory competitions we had in high school. I remember taking part in Junior Entertainment, an event in which form ones entertained the rest of the students through dancing, singing and modelling, and I won the catwalk event. Afterwards, my desk mate, Sarah, pushed me to audition to represent my house in Miss Boma. I ended up winning the actual title of Miss Boma.
You won the title of Miss Kenya Kajiado County in 2015. What motivated you to compete for the title of Miss Kenya Kajiado County?
After my modelling succes in high school, I wanted to join the Miss Kenya competition. Since we had to start from county level, what better county could I represent than the one I have lived in for almost 20 years now! I love Kajiado and I wanted to showcase what my county has to offer.
You competed in both Miss Kenya and Miss Supranational pageants while still in university. How did you balance between pageant work and school work?
People think competing in pageants is easy but, honestly, it's hard work and it's very time-consuming. I actually had to take a break from school to focus on Miss Kenya and Miss Supranational because they both involve boot camps. Seeing as competing in these pageants got me recognition from Harvard, I would say it paid off.
Models are stereotyped to be dumb and superficial, even though most models are actually the opposite. As a model, have you met people who had this perception of you? If you did, how did you deal with it?
Yes. Honestly, it happens all the time. It can get really hard, especially when you're applying for something that needs you to be taken seriously, like a 'formal' job. Some people are also shocked when they find out that I'm studying financial engineering. I think judging people based off of how they look is shallow and uninformed. Get to know the person first then make an unbiased judgement. Besides, are we really still judging people on looks? In 2017? That women can either be pretty or be brainy is an archaic concept rooted in misogyny.
What made you gravitate towards financial engineering?
Well, I grew up knowing that having success, career-wise, is having a 'big job'. And because I went to one of the big schools in the country, as far as 8-4-4 public schooling in Kenya is concerned, there was so much pressure to choose a 'serious' thing to study in university. Since I loved maths and always scored straight As in the subject, I decided to choose something mathematical, and that's how I landed on financial engineering. For those who don't know much about the course, it's like the sister to acturial science. I love this course, and I'm glad that I will be graduating soon. One thing that I have learnt while studying is that in our society, people won't respect you if you haven't completed your studies all the way to university, and I don't think that's fair. If you didn't get the chance to finish school, just know that you can still achieve your dreams. And for those in school, know that formal learning is beneficial and it gives you something to fall back on.
You ended up being amongst the top 20 in Miss Supranational 2015, 16th to be exact, with a total of 82 countries competing. How did it feel to achieve such a feat, especially since Kenya was very new to the Miss Supranational scene?
This was one of the most difficult periods in my life. It was a last minute decision to send me to the competition, and I almost gave up due to the lack of support. The other competitors were coming from well funded agencies and I was not, and that brought about some challenges. Despite the difficulties, I held my head high. I did the best I could with what I had. Thankfully, my friends and family were always cheering me on. Placing that high despite all I went through made me believe that I could really achieve anything if I put my mind to it.
You were to attend Harvard after graduating from JKUAT. Will you still be doing that? If so, what will you be studying at Harvard?
I'm still working out the details of this. Hopefully everything works out.
Since you blew up in the pageant scene, you have been a little quiet. Why is this? Have you been undertaking projects on the down-low or did you take some time off?
I have been in school. This is my final year, and final year is always the busiest. I don't really have time for much else. Right now, it's just school, my make-up business, and a few modelling gigs. But school is the primary focus.
You won the 2015 Best Female Model Award when you represented Kenya at the Diaspora Entertainment Awards and Recognition (DEAR). How did it feel to be recognized by the Kenyan diaspora community? Do you think that DEAR is doing a good job at bringing Africans in the diaspora and in the continent together?
Yes, DEAR is doing a job job. The award shines a spotlight on Kenyan works and brings Kenyans together. I was very happy and humbled to win the award. The DEAR family is run by very strong and supportive women who are very passionate about Kenya and Kenyans. I'd like to thank to thank Pam Moraka, Lydia Komungo, and Lydia Akum for believing in me and continuing to support me.
You have worked on several campaigns such as the anti-jigger campaign with Ahadi Kenya and you’ve also worked with the NGO Smile Train. What lessons did you learn from taking part in these projects?
The most satisfying kind of joy you can get is from making an impact on people's lives. I am thankful to have been able to help out in making a positive change in the world. I learnt that there is always someone who needs your help, however big or small, and that if we work together we can accomplish great things. I know that's a cliché, but it's true.
In your opinion, is there colourism in the Kenyan modelling industry?
Yes. Unfortunately, the lighter your skin colour, the more jobs you'll book. It's an unfortunate and ugly truth that many people worldwide have to deal with. However, I have to say that I have noticed a positive change. The industry is growing and there has been a shift. Most runways are now focusing on showcasing all the different shapes, shades and sizes we come in, which is good.
Being a model exposes one to extreme scrutiny of their body. Have you had any such experiences? If so, how did you deal with them?
Yes, I have had these experiences. Everyday, during casting calls, our measurements are taken and some agents will berate you for any changes they deem unacceptable. The current gold standard in modelling is thin, and we are required to fit very narrow standards of beauty, which can drive people into eating disorders. I've actually noted that models are the most insecure people when it comes to body image. You can do your best to eat right and hit the gym, but even that will not be enough for some people. In my part, I try to maintain a healthy diet and to workout whenever I can. I also remind myself that I am enough and that my health matters more than any job.
You recently ventured out as a make-up artist. How is this going? Many make-up brands have been criticized for not catering for darker shades. Have you come across this as a make-up artist? How do you find the Kenyan make-up brands?
I love to do makeup, it’s fun and I just love how much it transforms a person. Yes, there is a void in make-up for darker-skinned people, and I hope that that changes soon. We have seen brands like Fenty Beauty that have come out with wide shade ranges to accommodate people of all colours, and that's the direction we should be headed in. Kenyan make-up brands have also been making waves. Brands such as Suzie Beauty and Huddah Cosmetics have been doing really well. If anyone is going to create shades for us Kenyan skin tones, it's going to be one of us, right? Who else knows our skin like we do? Who knows African skin like Africans? We have to support our own. I'm thankful to all the brands and entrepreneurs out there who are working towards making sure that every colour, every shade, and every skin tone is represented and catered for and I hope that the other brands join the bandwagon.
What advice do you have for young (Kenyan) women venturing into the modelling
Keep your goals in mind and remain focused. Modelling isn't easy.
What is the toughest challenge you’ve met so far?
As a model, the toughest challenge has been sexual harassment. When trying to make it in the modelling scene there are people who try to take advantage of you, and, modelling aside, sexual harassment is a problem that women go through day after day. I mean, the statistics for this are staggering! Women all over the world, irregardless of what they do in life, are going through this. It is definitely an issue that needs immediate fixing. Women are not objects of pleasure, and men need to learn that. Men need to respect women. We need to have these conversations and we need to have them now.
What advice do you have for young Kenyans and Kenyans in general during this political crisis?
Kenya is our home. We are all responsible for taking care of our country. We should all bear that in mind, whether we are pro-Jubilee or pro-NASA. As Kenyan citizens, we need to familiarize ourselves with our rights. When you see someone else's rights being abused, don't be quiet, speak up! We need to protect ourselves and each other.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Definitely as a successful woman with a positive impact on society.
Magline Jeruto, 24, is Miss World Kenya 2017. She is currently in Sanya, China, representing Kenya on the Miss World stage. Before winning the title of Miss World Kenya 2017, she worked as a travelling consultant in a private company in Nairobi. She plans to focus her charity on children with autism because they're are often left out in our society. And while she was elated to go to China, the road there hasn't been easy.
The Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts was supposed to disburse funds for the Miss World Kenya team to be used in preparation for the competition, as well as in paying for airfare and other costs incurred. However, the ministry failed to do so, and this has taken a toll on the Miss World Kenya team, as well as on Magline's performance. In Terry Mungai's words, “…expenses such as airline tickets, wardrobe, accommodation, and participation expenses have to be facilitated to create a conducive and equal environment for all contestants." The Miss World Kenya team made an emotional plea to president Uhuru Kenyatta but it is unclear if any action has been taken.
Despite the monetary problems, Magline's performance has been commendable. She emerged amongst the top 30 in the top model challenge which was won by Nigeria. The way Miss World is operating this year, the winners of the head-to-head challenges and the winners of the 5 fast track events - 4 of them being top model, sports, talent, and beauty with a purpose - advance directly into the top 40. Altogether, that's 25 spots in the top 40. The remaining 15 will be chosen by the judges. Magline's chances of advancing into the top 40 remain with the judges. Our votes for her also count. She needs our support and we need to show her that we believe in her. We need to vote for her and show our support on her social media pages.
Voting can be done in 3 simple ways:
1. Like Miss World Kenya's Facebook account and invite as many friends as possible to do the same.
2. Voting for her on the official Miss World website. You need to login to vote, which means you need to create a profile on the website, but worry not! It's all easy to do.
3. Vote for her and follow her on her Mobstar account.
Kenya has never won the title of Miss World. Winning the Miss World title will bring good PR to Kenya, which is especially good for us in the recent turmoil and political uncertainty. Let's help Magline bring home the crown.
Today, Kenya has been rocked with the news that Trans Nzoia county is on alert over a suspected Marburg case. Ebola has been thrown around, and people have been asked not to panic. Already, a quarantine has been enforced in the affected area as we await results from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). But what really is Marburg and why should we be concerned? Here are 3 reasons why.
1. Marburg is Ebola's cousin.
We all remember the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis in West Africa. Who can forget the pictures of doom, of people wasting away from a strange disease with no cure at hand? Well, Marburg is Ebola's cousin and is just as dangerous. The Marburg virus, shortly referred to as Marburg, is one of the 8 deadliest viruses in the world. The virus was so named after the town in Germany by the same name where it was first described - in 1967. It belongs to the Filoviridae family of viruses, just like Ebola. In fact, Marburg and Ebola share a common ancestor, and their existence predates human existence. Viruses of the Filoviridae family cause severe diseases in humans and primates in the form of viral hemorrhagic fevers, which, in simple terms, means that the viruses cause high bodily temperature and leakage of blood from blood vessels. Additionally, this means that symptoms of infection by these viruses are similar. These viruses are so dangerous that they are designated the highest level of containment, Biosafety Level 4.
2. Marburg is highly transmissible.
Marburg easily spreads from person to person. In recorded cases of Marburg, patient zero is usually someone who contracted it from fruit bats or primates such as monkeys. Fruit bats are the host of the virus, and humans can get it directly from fruit bats or from infected primates. In our case, Marburg came to Kenya from neighbouring Uganda, where patient zero contracted it from laboratory work involving African green monkeys. Once it has infected a person, the virus catches on like wild fire. It spreads through bodily fluids i.e. blood, saliva, tears, semen, vaginal fluids, sweat, mucus, breast milk, urine, pus, and so many more. What this means is that if someone with Marburg sneezes around you, there's a very good chance that you will be infected from breathing in the bodily fluids of the infected person in their sneeze. Think of it like TB, but so much worse. Unprotected sex with someone with Marburg, you get Marburg too. Like AIDS, but so much worse. Touch someone with Marburg, be in the same vicinity as someone with Marburg, ding ding ding! Even touching clothing and bedding of an infected person may lead to infection. This is why the first step of action in a suspected Marburg case is quarantine. The entire area is cordoned off. No one leaves, and no one goes in except authorized essential health personnel. It is also why health personnel dealing with Marburg dress the way they do: respirators, face shields, full body suits, goggles, shoe coverings, two pairs of gloves, apron, and a hood. They're dressed like that to prevent infection, and anyone going into the affected area must to be dressed like that too. Even though the outbreak has not been confirmed to be Marburg as we are still awaiting results from KEMRI, containment steps at the highest level must be taken immediately the virus is suspected. It is important to note that the virus can be in incubation mode for up to 21 days, meaning that someone may be infected but not show signs of infection for those 21 days. This is why quarantine of ALL people in the affected area is important. Different areas should be designated for the diagnosed people, the suspected cases, the people who may have been infected, and the rest of the population in the area.
3. No cure and high mortality rate.
Marburg fever is a severe and highly fatal disease. Symptoms include hemorrhage, high fever, severe watery diarrhoea, vomiting, severe headaches, severe malaise, abdominal pain, cramping, and extreme lethargy. Patients may appear 'ghost-like' i.e. pale with deep-set eyes and expressionless faces. Death may occur 8-9 days after onset of disease, and it is preceded by severe blood loss and shock. Fatalities of recorded outbreak cases have gone as high as 88%. There is no known cure for the virus. People infected with Marburg remain infectious as long as the virus is in their body.However, a possible vaccine and possible cures for both Ebola and Marburg is being investigated.
How can we stay safe?
1. Do not panic. Remaining calm and level-headed is very important. The area affected has already been quarantined and border patrol is on high alert.
2. Read extensively about the virus and how to spot an infected person.
3. If you suspect that you and/or someone else is infected by the virus, seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. Keep away from people as much as possible to not infect anyone else, and inform health officials of your suspicions from the start so that they can protect themselves too. If Marburg is confirmed, a special team - with a hotline, I suppose, will be put in place to handle the disease so as to lower transmission rates. Guidelines on handling a Marburg victim can be found here. DO NOT go to a herbal specialist or a traditional doctor. While herbal specialists and traditional doctors are very important people in the society, they are simply not equipped to deal with this class of viruses. In fact, the first suspected case of Marburg here in Kenya is that of a herbal specialist suspected to have been infected by a patient from Uganda who crossed the border seeking herbal treatment. I repeat. DO NOT go to a herbal specialist or a traditional doctor. While herbal specialists and traditional doctors are very important people in the society, they are simply not equipped to deal with this class of viruses.
4. Stay alert. Marburg is dangerous, but, with the proper surveillance and protection, the situation is far from hopeless.
5. Stay away from bats and primates. If your work involves these animals e.g. laboratory work involving African green monkeys like in this case, observe good laboratory practices and biosafety protocols. Do not eat these animals, that's how Ebola broke out in West Africa.
6. Examine your burial practices. Burial practices have a lot to do with disease. Before modern burial was embraced by Kenyan communities, the most common method of burial was feeding the corpse to dogs or wild animals and this led to a high prevalence of hydatid cysts (tapeworms) in humans because the human remains were somehow making their way back to food and water due to improper disposal. In New Guinea, an entire population was almost wiped out by a prion disease known as Kuru because they cannibalized the brains of the dead person as part of their burial rites. In Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, the spread of Ebola was especially fueled by their burial rites. Bodies of people with Marburg must be handled and buried by the personnel handling the containment of the virus. This is because the virus is still contagious in the dead person.
7. Raise awareness. Educate your friends and family. Do not forget about those in rural areas. Reach them too. Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks.