|Interview by Phylis Luganda
Published December 21, 2007
|Pauline Long about to take off
Pauline Long, the founder and organiser of Miss East Africa UK beauty pageant, urges the government formed after the December 27, 2007 general elections to make eradication of poverty among children its priority. Kenya-born Long says none of the manifestos of the major parties seeking votes addresses this subject. Children who grow up in poverty, Long contends, carry this baggage into adulthood to the detriment of society.
In this interview with ArtMatters.Info’s PHYLIS LUGANDA, Long urges “the next Kenyan leader” to look into child welfare and introduce mechanisms like a monthly cash allowance to each child besides providing at least ‘one free school meal’ per day.
How did you come up with the Miss East Africa UK beauty pageant?
I established this pageant as a result of my passion for fashion and love for children. Fashion runs in my family with my mother having been in the industry for more than four decades. She introduced the entire family to the world of fashion; however I decided to take it a step further.
After quitting my regular job as a guest relation manager in a top London hotel to become a full-time mother, I realised how tasking it was looking after children and discovered how vital it is to provide a child with basic needs of life for healthy growth. I meditated about the children who lacked these needs and decided to go on a one woman’s mission and vision to set up Miss East Africa UK in 2006.
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Had you ever considered modelling as a career for yourself?
I had never considered modelling let alone taking it as a career.
My mother always asked me to model her clothes in my late teens and well into my mid twenties but I always declined as I was convinced modelling was only for the likes of Naomi Campbell and Liya Kebede whose height I couldn’t match.
What were you doing before you got involved with this project?
I was working as a guest relation manager at Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London. I quit the regular 9-5 job when I had my first child in 2002 to become a full time mother. In my spare time I began writing as a hobby, joined a writers club and realised I had the potential as a writer. I currently write for various magazines and newspapers.
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|Pauline Long is a three-handed woman
What is Miss East Africa UK all about?
This is a beauty pageant which aims to empower and enlighten young East African women to become ambassadors and role models for the world. Our main objective is to highlight the plight of underprivileged children in East Africa orphaned through HIV/AIDS, misplaced by war, or those who are just simply abandoned. Right now we are actively involved with Rafiki Children’s Home of Kenya and Pearl Care Children of Uganda.This is a beauty pageant which aims to empower and enlighten young East African women to become ambassadors and role models for the world. Our main objective is to highlight the plight of underprivileged children in East Africa orphaned through HIV/AIDS, misplaced by war, or those who are just simply abandoned. Right now we are actively involved with Rafiki Children’s Home of Kenya and Pearl Care Children of Uganda.
How do you define East Africa?
Geographically speaking, we can talk of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We, however, have stretched it to include Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Malawi.
When was Miss East Africa UK established?
In September 2006, with the inaugural show held in December 2006 to coincide with the start of World AIDS Week.
How different is Miss East Africa UK from, say, Miss World or Miss Tourism?
All the three are highly coveted titles affiliated to charities and the only difference is Miss World and Miss Tourism cover a vast area working with a much bigger budget and that means contestants have to pay an entry fee.
The main mission of Miss Tourism is to promote tourism in a given country or area and Miss World promotes various products while Miss East Africa UK is specifically for East Africans living in the UK, with the sole purpose of fighting for children’s rights and helping children’s charities in East Africa.
Do you also plan to incorporate “Mr East Africa UK” title in your brand?
I was due to collaborate in the launch of “Mr East Africa UK” with the late UK/East African music promoter Rakeem Awori, the brother to top Ugandan fashion designer Sylvia Awori. Unfortunately this was discussed but never took off so I suppose it is a project I will look into very soon. I have received several emails from young East African men asking for it.
How is Miss East Africa UK funded, and how much money do you require to pull it off?
The pageant has predominantly been funded by me with minor sponsors offering what they can. This year we acquired UGPULSE.COM as a partner. They have played a very important role during and after the show. I normally spend a minimum of £10,000 and that’s not including the whole year’s expenses.
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How does the western definition of beauty differ from that of Africa, and which definition do you adopt in naming Miss East Africa UK?
First of all, the beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. A woman’s beauty must be seen from her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where passion resides.
While Africans consider a woman with a fuller figure as beautiful, their western counterparts see a beautiful woman as that with a slimmer figure, almost size zero. Back in the days when I lived in Africa I wouldn’t have been called beautiful. I was very slim; I am still slim even after having two children but I have found acceptance here in the UK. I do not know whether this perception of the more ample-bodied you are the more beautiful you are is still the same in Kenya because the last time I was there in 2005, friends made comments on my weight. There is also debate on beauty with regard to the skin colour. To some people a beautiful woman is that with a lighter skin. In fact at this year’s show someone made a comment to me about how many ‘lighter skin’ contestants were in the pageant and who should have won.
Miss East Africa UK is about the inner beauty which normally reflects the outer beauty. Whilst the contestants apply to take part in the pageant they are aware there are no height, size, colour and figure restrictions. We are not looking for the next top model. We just need a beautiful soul who will be a voice for the East African underprivileged children.
Beauty pageants have been criticised as not empowering but belittling Women. What’s your take on this perception?
No woman is forced onto the cat-walk. Not all beauty pageants do swimwear; Miss East Africa UK didn’t do swimwear this year because I found that some of 2006 contestants were not comfortable with it. It’s all about guiding, nurturing, empowering the participants and watching their confidence grow throughout the whole process. The only thing I find ‘belittling women’ is sexual and domestic violence which I don’t think receives much publicity.
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Does beauty pageantry promote immorality as seen in some quarters?
No, they certainly don’t. It is a way of empowering a woman to have a voice to knock on and open doors which an ordinary woman wouldn’t open under normal circumstances. Ultimately, their duties are associated with charities. People listen to beauty queens. Maureen Nyakaira, just four months into her reign as Miss East Africa UK 2007, has met the Queen of England, appeared on a BBC TV’s children in need charity programme and is due to meet Andrew Mitchell, the UK Shadow
Secretary of State for International Development to discuss ways in which they can help underprivileged children of East Africa. Currently she’s on an East African tour of orphanages and has just begun her first league in Kenya and then proceeds to Tanzania to spend Christmas with orphaned babies of Forever Angels Home before completing her tour on January 14, 2008 in her native Uganda.
Why are beauty pageants often associated with charity, mainly in areas such as orphans and HIV/AIDS?
Every beauty pageant has a mission, an objective and a purpose and often they are affiliated to charities. While some promote tourism and others businesses, others are purely for modelling purposes or stepping stones to acquiring a career in the entertainment industry.
Where orphans and HIV/AIDS are concerned there can never be too many ambassadors, in fact the more beauty queens that get involved in fighting this epidemic the better. HIV/AIDS and orphans go together; it’s a delicate issue that needs not only beauty queens but everyone.
How can beauty pageants be used in transforming society?
I think beauty queens and models in general must be people whose words and actions promote positive values. Models should also support good causes and always highlight issues affecting society. Models have the power of making the media to focus on cases of injustice.
What challenges do you encounter?
The biggest challenge is finding people who share my vision and getting them to commit themselves to it. I would like to meet individuals or companies who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. I would like more people to give in terms of their time, skills, finances, education and a safe haven to children. There are many people that come forward with promises to donate to the charities I campaign for but don’t deliver. This is why I have decided that I am going to be the main donor to these charities through my businesses. I believe if you can’t find a way into the system, you must create one!
Where and when were you born in Kenya? Say something about your family background.
I was born in Mombasa in 1976 but by the age of 6 my family relocated to Nyanza province.
I have 10 siblings seven of whom live abroad and three are in Kenya.
My father, an accountant, hails from Mirogi near Homa Bay while my mother is from Kano near Kisumu.
I began my primary school education at Homa Bay Primary School along the beautiful Lake Victoria but ended up sitting my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations at Rapogi Girls’ Boarding School. From there I proceeded to St Albert’s Ulanda Girls’ School for secondary school education that I completed in 1993.
I then immediately enrolled at Labelle School of Hair Dressing in Nairobi for a diploma in hairdressing.
My mother wanted one of us to be a partner in her business and so all eyes were on me. She had a successful hairdressing salon and a boutique in the busy high street of Kakamega town. I spent 1994 in between my mother’s businesses and Labelle School of Hairdressing. The business proved very successful to a point where I thought that was what I was destined to do as a career but changed my mind in 1995 after I visited my brother and elder sister in the UK. When I returned to Kenya I decided I wanted to go back to the UK at some point for studies.
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|Pauline Long relaxes as she strategises
How and when did you get back to the UK?
Then I came back here in 1996 to study business management at City University. Unfortunately due to insufficient funding I dropped out and took a computing course at a local college. Whilst doing this I began doing a part time job in a hotel and this is when my interest in working in the hotel industry developed. I started from the lowest level switching from one department to the other and gradually worked my way up.
Are you planning to relocate to Kenya any time soon?
Relocating to Kenya has been a subject of discussion in my household for quite some time. There has been mixed reaction from the friends and relatives that I have confided in with the majority of them talking me out of moving back to Kenya. I have purpose on this earth and I have set out to achieve it whether it’s in Europe or Africa. At the moment it looks certain to be in Kenya. I can only say that 2008 is going to be a very big year for me with big leaps and major projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but whilst doing all these, I’ll keep on doing what is very dear to my heart: helping needy children. I’ll also keep on looking for moral and material support for the children’s homes and get heavily involved in HIV/AIDS projects. Charity will always be part of everything I do and I will always wear my RED ribbon.
How do you describe yourself?
I have discovered that I have more than two hands, one for myself, the second for my children and the third for under-privileged children. I’m caring and passionate. I am also ambitious and persistent. I[m very reserved and I surround myself with a very small but close unit of friends and family. I enjoy very simple things in life like going for a brisk walk in the woods with my two-year-old daughter and doing a bit of gardening with my five-year-old son. I am very imaginative and have ideas that come through my mind whenever I am alone. I am always writing scripts, reality TV ideas which I have a library of and each morning I wake up to watch the TV or look on the internet to check if someone is already implementing my ideas. With my interest in television and media, I may one day produce them. I enjoy writing and currently I’m the beauty editor of UGPULSE.COM.
What is your motto?
I have several mottos; I switch between them when it suits. Firstly, I believe you have one life, whatever you need to achieve in life just do it and whilst at it just remember that the people that matter don’t mind and the people that mind don’t matter. The other motto that keeps me on my toes is; the hardest mile of a marathon is the last mile, so never give up on what you intend to achieve.
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|Miss East Africa UK founder, Pauline Long
Do you have an African name, say Achieng Otieno?
My middle name is Atieno but my parents enrolled me in school in Kenya as Pauline Odhiambo. I carried my dad’s surname until I got married. So I have never really used my African name although now I’m thinking of adding it on as my middle name.
What do we expect to see you doing in, say, two to three years from now?
Miss East Africa UK will definitely have a children’s home built and funded by the projects I’m just about to introduce in East Africa. I will definitely be very active in the entertainment and fashion world.
All pictures by Miss East Africa UK