When Wendy Oduor applied to participate in the Miss Kenya USA pageant, it wasn’t all about looking pretty or showcasing her passion for fashion. She wanted to push a mental health agenda after losing her brother to suicide
Harriet James @harriet86jim
One by one, guests walked into the Carco Theatre at Renton, Washington, USA. It was a colourful gala event. Soon, Miss Kenya USA would be revealed. But first things first, the beauty pageant graced the runway in different outfits. From swimsuits, traditional outfit and evening gowns.
And when the victors of different categories were announced, it was a case of winner taking it all. The star of the day? Twenty-six-year-old Wendy Oduor. She took home Best Swimsuit Award, Best Traditional Outfit, Best Interview, Best Evening Gown and Best Talent.
She also won People’s Princess Award after a month-long process of voting. So when she was at last named Miss Kenya, USA, it didn’t catch her by surprise.
“I had prepared well! I was intentional about every section. I was also intentional about standing out. After winning the awards for all the sections, I knew it was a done deal. I can’t lie there were times when my mind played tricks that I could not possibly be the winner.
But as the night progressed, it was crystal clear that I was going to take the crown. Some of my fellow contestants also said if I din’t win, then something was wrong,” Wendy recalls the events of July 6, this year.
Breaking the silence
Organised to forge a network of women who will mentor the next generation of women, the Miss Kenya USA pageant is an annual event in the US that seeks to have many young Kenyan women coached to the point that they are well prepared to be positive role models within their community and in the diaspora.
Every woman who participates in the pageant is assisted in achieving their philanthropic work whether they win or not and for Wendy, winning gave her a platform to break the silence in mental health, not just in Kenya, but in the diaspora.
“To be a queen means to fully carry your mission and presenting the platform you stood for. So for me, I plan on doing all I can to break mental health silence for Kenya and Kenyans in the diaspora,” she says.
Mental health is an issue that has been close to Wendy’s heart since she lost her brother in 2014 to suicide. Understanding the pain of losing a loved one to it, she began speaking about it at social events and on her social media platforms. It is on this line of thought that she sought to participate in the Miss Kenya USA pageant to get a bigger platform to raise awareness on the topic many still consider a taboo.
Charity begins at home and so, Wendy plans to embark on a mission to demystify the notions and beliefs that Kenyans have on mental health through teachings, constant conversations not just online, but in schools, public events and in churches.
“Although I talk a lot about mental health in my Instagram by hosting Mental Health Monday instagram live, I needed more. And so I’m coming home to continue the journey,” she reveals.
Born and raised in Landless, Makongeni estate Nairobi, Wendy moved to the US at the age of 11 where her parents went in search of greener pastures. “I experienced culture shock.
I was used to seeing America on movies, but upon my arrival, I quickly learned that although America is a land of opportunities, one needed hard work to achieve all the great things we desired in our hearts,” Wendy recalls.
The family settled in Indiana where Wendy attended her high school before she proceeded to Saint Mary’s college concentrating in biology and psychology. Later on, she relocated to New York in 2016 to pursue a career in fashion. When it comes to fashion, people always opt the self-taught way, but for the hunger of knowledge, going to college was the option Wendy took. She attended Parson School of Design, New York.
“Fashion had always been my passion, from helping to organise street fashion shows, working with models and modelling for a few brands. So I decided to go professional. It was a leap of faith,” she explains. New York is a fast-paced city and Wendy had to adapt fast.
Life is also expensive, but the determined and focused fashionista understood very well how to push through her dreams till they came to fruition. “I moved to New York without knowing anyone, but holding on to faith that I had a possible chance in making it in fashion. I am doing okay so far, but I still have a long way to go in this concrete jungle. Nothing comes easy,” she says.