It is 5.15 pm, I am sitting in a café in Westlands, waiting for Miss Environment Kenya 2015, 19 year old Moraa Ondieki. When she arrives with Kensent Kamero, the pageant’s founder and spokesman, they both apologize for running a little late. “Traffic is horrible. We just had a meeting in town, it started thirty minutes late because of it.”
To win the pageant, Moraa went through some thorough preparatory training together with her competitors and the guys running for the corresponding Mr Environment Kenya title. The show was held on June 5th, World Environment Day, and entailed a runway competition with recycled clothes created by the candidates and a question and answer competition on environmental issues.
Kenyadventure: Moraa, do you remember what question you were asked at the pageant and how you responded?
Moraa Ondieki: Yes, I remember! I was asked “What are you doing on a personal level to ensure that you don’t abuse the things you throw away?” I answered that I normally recycle, especially used clothes and jewellery. When I was younger, I used to make art. You know, when you take a box and you cover it with materials, then you put a portrait inside, like your mom’s picture. And some time ago, I made a cushion for our living room.
KA: Did you also get a recycled tiara?
MO: I think it was recycled, because I got it from the previous Miss.
Moraa is a second year student of energy and environmental technology at Mount Kenya university. You can tell that she had pageant training from the way she answers the questions. She takes a moment to consider and chooses her words carefully.
KA: What do you think distinguishes Miss Environment Kenya from other pageants?
MO: Obviously, the environment is really important to us. I know others work in other ways of giving to the community, like taking care of the needy, charity work. Miss Environment gives us the opportunity to explore a sector that is really coming up and that the youth has to be informed about. I think the projects that we have are very critical, as they help to teach and give back to society, in terms of the life that we live today and the life that we will have tomorrow.
KA: Do you see yourself as a model or an environmentalist first?
MO: I am a mixture of both, but nowadays I see myself as an environmentalist first. I have become more intrested in conservation. I have turned down so many pageants and photo shoots because I want to focus on what I am doing as Miss Environment Kenya.
Kensent Kamero founded the Miss Environment Kenya contest in 2013 after returning from a volunteering program with Canada World Youth. “I learned so much about the environment. When I came back, I wanted to give something back to society, especially the youth. I wanted to use a platform that people were comfortable with. At our universities, beauty pageants are really taken seriously.”
KA: How has your life changed since you were crowned?
MO: Oooh, it has changed so much! First, I will start by saying: that crown itself! Miss Environment Kenya 2015 will remain under my name, there will never be anybody like that. That is really huge for me. Apart from that, I have learned to interact with people in the environmental field, in the government and in other institutions. Before that, talking to them would have been a really big challenge, because I did not feel confident enough. I improved a lot on my public speaking skills. Nowadays, I am always ready to say something. I was able to travel and bring back home some of the things that I learned outside the country. And I gained a lot of friends that I wouldn’t want to miss. And lastly, on the personal side: I have really had to learn how to manage my time well.
KA: Do yo also work together with Mr Environment Kenya?
MO: We do, though we are in different schools in different counties. When we have meetings in Nairobi, we discuss our projects, and we also talk about the projects that we have jointly as an organization, like the Energy Saving Jiko project.
Jikos are traditional stoves that rely on firewood as a fuel source. Mr and Miss Environment Kenya are promoting a jiko designed to need 50 percent less firewood, thus helping to reduce firewood consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in rural areas. On the animal protection front, they are also advocating anti-poaching campaigns. Probably their best established project is the Greening Schools intiative which encourages studentes to plant trees and take responsibility for them.
KA: Are you also engaged in other policital issues or does environmentalism take up all of your time?
MO: My life is pretty much all about the environment. It’s what I’m going to be doing in the future.
Kensent Kamero: Plus, the Miss Environment Kenya is a non-political organization. In Kenya, once you engage an organisation in politics, it doesn’t last long.
KA: On a more abstract level, how would you define Kenya’s role in the context of African and global environmental politics?
MO: Our government is really engaged. When we go to them about environmental issues, they are always ready to help us with whatever we need. Internationally, considering that they were following the Kyoto protocol and they were always going to the COP meetings, that shows that they have an active role. Some countries refused to be part of the COP meetings, like the USA. Kenya is most active in tree planting. As you know we had Wangari Maathai. We are still going on with her motives, as much I don’t think she is recognized enough in our country, even though we have the Green Belt Movement.
Pageants in Germany are generally seen as quite shallow happenings. In Kenya, according to Kensent and Moraa, they are a way of empowering youth to become engaged in society, and also a serious career opportunity. Moraa’s predecessor was able to get a job as an environmental manager because of her success as Miss Environment Kenya, which included the planting of 10,000 trees along the Nairobi River.
KA: What will be Kenya’s biggest challenges on its way to a Green Economy?
MO: Definitely the starting capital for the resources and the technologies that we need to implement projects for clean energy. We are working towards having a nuclear power station. I think that would be a step ahead, even though it has its disadvantages. We are also doing great in the solar and wind sector, but it’s not enough.
KA: So you think that nuclear power is a viable option for Kenya?
MO: Yes, but it is also a little dangerous. To close it down is really expensive. With a dump site, you cover it and then you go back to the way it was before. But with nuclear, I have not heard of any place where they have been able to close it like that. So it is a threat to our community.
KA: Do you have any other suggestion on how Kenya could tackle its environmental challenges?
MO: Training the people, and removing some elements from the market which are not healthy for the environment. For example, they are telling us to throw away plastic bags and use a new one, just so they can produce more and make more profits. So, the most important thing is changing the mind set.
KA: Thank you for the interview! Any closing words?
MO: Like the hummingbird, do your little thing!