By Gloria Nakajubi
Simple, casual and totally laid back – that is what former Miss Uganda Maria Namiiro looked like when she turned up for an interview at the New Vision offices earlier this week.
Beauty queens, present and former, usually have a rather high sense of self regard to their appearance before the public. But almost everything about Namiiro said one thing — simplicity.
This was a long way from the last Namiiro we saw, when she was declared winner of one of the most controversial pageants in Miss Uganda history. From the time she came to Uganda as a contestant for the Miss Uganda 2009, after winning the Miss Uganda UK pageant, she was involved in controversy.
The then holder of the Miss Uganda franchise was UK-based Ugandan Joyce Church and her husband. The panel of judges that determined the winner came from the UK with Church. And then an undercover reporter from the New Vision took part in the finals, and revealed how Namiiro was favoured right from the start, and how it seemed the contest had already been judged.
Maria Namiiro MISS UGANDA 2009
What really happened in Miss Uganda 2009?
Namiiro denies ever having been part of any scam involving Miss Uganda, and says she never knew the Churches before the Miss Uganda UK, and that she was abandoned after winning.
“I never knew Joyce Church before the Miss Uganda UK pageant,” she said. “I met her when I won and part of the prize was contesting for the Miss Uganda title. I did not know her or any of the judges, so it was not correct to say I was favoured.”
And she says other winners like Miss Uganda-Australia and Miss Uganda-New Zealand were invited to take part, but they chose not to.
Namiiro also said the Miss Uganda UK crown was also to come with a one-year modelling contract with Mahogany Models, but this never happened since no contract was signed. The Miss Uganda affair also ended at the crowning event where she walked away with £1,000 (about sh3.5m) and a trip back to the UK.
“I went back home and my family and the Ugandan community in the UK helped me to prepare for the Miss World pageant,” she says. “I never saw Joyce Church again, and was not invited to hand over the crown when a new Miss Uganda was chosen the next year.”
Namiiro with the disabled children she plans to help through her TV show
Her life after Miss Uganda
Four years down the road, Namiiro’s life has never been the same again and though she pursued studies to be a flight attendant, that was not her passion and she abandoned it. She then decided to concentrate on what she believes is her calling, to engage with the community at a personal level.
Every Miss Uganda we have seen says they plan to work for the children in all sorts of ways, especially street children and those living with HIV/AIDS. It is almost like a song that they learn in boot camp.
But Namiiro is determined to put her money where her mouth is. While her days currently rotate around her TV show (The Maria Namiiro TV Show, which airs on Sky TV in the UK focusing on charity, fashion, beauty and entertainment), she uses it as a platform to highlight the plight of vulnerable communities.
Currently her aim is the land of her forefathers, in Rakai district. Her dream is to transform Bikira Health Centre in Rakai into a modern hospital. On a recent visit to the hospital she speaks of seeing mothers sleeping on the floor with their sick children, while some of the babies shared beds.
“Through TV, I intend to call upon well-wishers to support the children and maternity wards at the health centre,” she said. “We as Ugandans need to be part of our own transformation otherwise there is no one who can understand our problems better than ourselves.”
Her dream is to work with local specialists willing to offer voluntary services to vulnerable communities. This as she explains will ensure sustainability of the project.
Her three-week visit to Uganda saw her engage with the administration and the patients at Bikira Health Centre, a move she says has enabled her understand the real issues affecting the community health facility on which she will base her response.
Other than television and charity, Namiiro works as a secretary at Kays Photography Company in Staines, Heathrow, UK.
‘We as Ugandans need to be part of our own transformation. Otherwise, there is no one who can understand our problems better than ourselves.’Maria Namiiro MISS UGANDA 2009
Surviving in the limelight
One thing Namiiro says that has kept her free from the pressures that come with being a celebrity is the fact that she refused to let the idea get into her head.
“I look at myself as a young woman with many dreams to achieve and not a celebrity at the top of her game,” she confesses.
She was born on August 29, 1988 in Mulago Hospital to John Kizito, a mechanical engineer and Sarah Muganga, an ophthalmic specialist, who hail from Kyotera, Rakai district.
Namiiro has a diploma in world wide travel from the Fareham College and another in legal secretarial studies from Kingston College all in the UK.
The baby girl Namiiro takes care of
Namiiro has also taken over responsibility of a two years and three months old girl, who had been abandoned by her parents and was in the care of the grandmother. She was barely six months then and unfortunately has a heart problem.
Namiiro and her family now take care of Baby Goretti Birabwa, who is undergoing treatment at Mulago Heart Institute as she waits to go for an operation. The family facilitates the girl’s frequent visits to the hospital and medication.
Medical documents show that Birabwa is suffering from a heart condition known as patent dactus arteriosis (PDA) with pulmonary artery stenosis, which requires an operation that will cost $5,150 (about sh12m). Children with a larger PDA may have growth retardation and a predisposition to lower respiratory tract infections.
And as the grandmother, Ruth Sentongo, explains, Birabwa was not growing normally and is always sick. Ssentongo says Namiiro and her family have ensured that Birabwa gets all the prescribed medication and cleared her hospital bills, which she could never have afforded.
Her vision is to become one of the established household names in television, and with her own foundation working with the vulnerable communities.
Like any other woman, Namiiro looks forward to marriage and having children, though right now, she confesses to having no ‘exclusive’ attachment to anyone.
What ex-Miss Uganda winners have done for charity
It is a given that at every beauty pageant, contestants and winners always declare how they want to do something for the disadvantaged, especially children.
But what happens after the event? Do they carry out their promises?
The Sylvia Owori years
Owori promised, throughout the five years she held the franchise, that they would raise money to buy a mammogram for Mulago Hospital.
Every year it was declared a certain amount was collected, but by the time she gave up the franchise in 2004, the mammogram had still not been bought.
Miss Uganda 2008, Dorah Mwima complained of being abandoned by the organisers soon after she was crowned.
She never got the car she was promised or any of the other prizes. Nevertheless, she formed the Dorah Mwima Foundation to continue fund-raising for the mammogram.
Although she has been very public in her fight for cancer awareness (including going bald last year in support of cancer patients), it is not clear if she has actually raised any money.
Other Miss Uganda winners
Most of the other winners simply disappeared from view after their reign ended. With the history of disappearing organisers, the winners also followed suit
Namiiro, Ganda Boyz raise 40m for Kawolo Hosptal
Miss Uganda takes up UK charity work
Miss Uganda- Who is fit to wear the crown?