Miss Tourism: Beauty queen with heart for her people

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
Marley Sianto Sikawa, former Miss Tourism Africa with her seven-year-old daughter Sylo and Marley’s father, Kenneth Kiminisi. Photo/COURTESY

Proud of his daughter, Kenneth Kiminisi narrates the former Miss Tourism Africa’s journey into the industry and his pride in her achievements 

When she received news that she was one of the Top 40 under 40 Women in Kenya in 2018, the former Miss Tourism, Marley Sianto Sikawa could not believe her ears. 

The award was for a project she had just set up, dubbed Solar for Manyatta.

“It was very unexpected, given she didn’t feel qualified enough to do as much as she wanted to.

It was humbling and to make that cut was such high honour.  She received a call that she was nominated and we weren’t sure she would actually be awarded.

When she did, it empowered her to do more for her community,” begins Kenneth Kiminisi, Sianto’s father. 

It was a proud moment for her father, a retired civil engineer who never imagined that Sianto would turn out to be as great as she is.

“Sianto is a darling to this family. She was very skinny and cried a lot when she was younger,” he recalls.

She grew up as a humble, cool, obedient and full of ambition in a village where women were facing female genital mutilation and early marriage. 

Sianto was born 30 years ago in Narok town: the second born between two brothers and three stepbrothers. Her father named her Sianto, which means a beautiful yellow flower in the Maa. 

 “At one time she imitated a radio presenter and sometimes a fashion model.

Sianto began walking when she was just eight months old and I took her to a nursery school when she was two-and-a-half years old in Narok town.

I think she was nine when she showed some interest in modelling after I took her to watch the first beauty contest held in Narok at Keekorok where Debra Sanaipei Ntimama was crowned queen of catwalk,” he narrates.

Fear of catwalk

Afraid of the catwalk world, Kenneth encouraged his daughter to pursue education first before venturing into modelling. 

Afterwards, he would support her when she was old enough to handle its pressures. 

“I was a little worried she might be carried away by the lifestyle involved, but still gave her all the blessings as we trusted her after going through university,” Kenneth adds.

Sianto stepped into the modelling world and as her father describes, it wasn’t a bed of roses learning all the ropes of being a catwalk queen. 

“She went through image training and had to learning how to dress as she has been a  tomboy all her life. She now had to act and dress like a lady and learn how to speak in public confidently,” he explains.

Well, being in the industry at a young age with low finances is tough as it involves high expenditure in buying make-up, clothes, travelling, accommodation and other miscellaneous expenses.

Nevertheless, Sianto did all this for the love of her people: the Maasai and her country. She knew that by winning the title, she would have the chance to change her community and her life too.

Luckily, the beauty queen won the unity crown at national level in 2013, through votes from her fellow contestants for she was friendly to everyone and considered unifying.

Sianto travelled to Venezuela as Miss Tourism Kenya in 2015 to represent her country and she took with her authenticity of culture, especially in her dressing. 

“It was a proud moment for all of us, as we had not thought she would emerge top five in the world.

It was an honour after such a tough year. It opened up many opportunities for her:  and she even got a chance to walk in the New York fashion week in 2015,” narrates her father.

Respected mentor

The event was attended by the who-and-who in Hollywood including Lupita Nyong’o, Kyle Jenner, Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton, and Vogue Magazine’s Anna Wintour.  Sianto also mingled with Claudia Jordan of Real Housewives of Atlanta and top designer Tamil Robinson. 

With the title and opportunities, she embarked on a journey to transform the community, in particular, the lives of the Masaai women through mentorship and also fighting for their rights. 

She has been to so many schools as a mentor. In 2018, she successfully spearheaded projects such as Solar for Manyatta under her community based organisation called Naretoi Ang’, which translates as ‘our help’.  

Sianto’s passion to assist her community began in her primary school years when she witnessed a drop in the number of boys and girls who attended school and she wanted to do more to help in education, sexual reproductive health and environmental friendly projects that could sustain themselves. 

“I am happy she is implementing what we taught her. Giving back to the society. We raised our children to help right from home to the community and other people who require assistance,” he says 

Presently she is running a mentorship programme for girls in the county, which brings together their mothers, with a view to scaling up their economic empowerment through gender-responsive thinking and leadership. She has also been appointed tourism marketing officer in Narok county.

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