When Flaviana Matata won the Miss Universe Tanzania pageant in 2007, she had no idea the contest she entered just for fun, would lead her down the runways of some of the world’s top fashion designers– Alexander McQueen, Tory Burch, and Vivienne Westwood, to name a few.
Not only did the bold and fearless beauty initially compete with a shaved head, she transitioned from a third world country and landed in the US working for Wilhelmina, one of the most prominent modeling agencies.
But beyond modeling Matata has a heart for Philanthropy. Despite her short time in the US and on the fashion runway, Matata started the Flaviana Matata Foundation, an organization that helps empower young orphaned girls in Tanzania. She’s hosted an honorary event for her organization with friend, mentor, entrepreneur and hip-hop legend, Russell Simmons. After donating 3,000 stationery kits to under privileged kids, she continues to look for ways to improve the quality of education in Tanzania.
Black Enterprise caught up with the Tanzanian beauty to learn more about her journey.
When did you start to take modeling seriously?
Although I entered Miss Universe Tanzania just for fun, it wasn’t until after I won that I started to take modeling seriously. From there I got better for Miss Universe Worldwide and said to myself this shouldn’t just be a one-year thing and started looking for modeling opportunities.
How difficult was it to make the transition from Africa to the US?
Just imagine moving here from a third world country where almost everything is completely different. The transition was very hard but thank God I visited the US twice before moving here. My friends have really helped and with time I have tried to adjust. But my home will always be home.
Why did you start the Flaviana Matata Foundation?
I remember seeing my late mom helping others kids go to school. I was very young but she used to tell my siblings and me how important it is to help those in need. She would also say that the best way to help is to educate children, by educating them you only not help their families but their generations and society as a whole. So, I started FMF to continue my passion of giving back.
How does your local work in the US impact or help girls in your country?
My work here in the US is a bridge to support needed in my country. It helps me to connect with great people who are eager to help abroad For example, my agency Wilhelmina Modeling helped me launch an event in the US after we registered as a 501 (c) 3. I have also continued to learn a lot from other organizations. Hopefully FMF will be able to spread more awareness about the needs of children in underserved areas and eventually we will have more support from the fashion industry.
What are your some of your best accomplishments?
FMF is still a very small organization but we thank God and all our supporters that we have been able to keep our 15 girls scholars in school and we hope they will continue with school next year We’re providing 3000 elementary school kids with school supplies. And now that we’re finally registered in the US as a 501(c) 3 organization, this will help us to raise fund here and hopefully help more kids back in Tanzania.
What are your biggest challenges?
Back home very few people understand the need or meaning of giving back. This makes our work very difficult but slowly we will get there. Also being here in the US without knowing the right people or having a connection is a big challenge. People are focused on big organizations and at times look down on people like us who have just started. Even gaining media attention to cover our activities and events is a struggle, but I believe through all these challenges God will see us through.
What do you want your legacy to be?
We don’t have to be billionaires to make a difference. The little effort I make in empowering young girls and supporting them through education should leave a mark that every individual can appreciate. Your words and beliefs should become the building blocks of your legacy. So I believe all I do now for the community and my country will be my legacy.
“What advice would you give to the young girls of the world?”
I always encourage girls to take education seriously. It’s the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Know what you want, focus, work hard and stay grounded. And most of all support one another.
I would also tell them to understand what matters to them and their society–What’s important to you? How do you want your life to touch others? What would make you proud? What are your values? If you had to do one thing to improve your world, what would your contribution be? How can you increase the well being of those who depend on you?.