Her entry to the packed hall was regal as it was triumphant. With big, beautiful brown eyes, her long brown hair falling gracefully past her shoulders to the small of her back, she merrily strode past the judges before turning and throwing a wide smile. She then proceeded to answer questions, for Finali Galaiya is more than a pretty face.
The confidence with which the multi-talented model answered judges’ questions as part of the tests to pick the Miss World Kenya winner attracted admiration among the audience and drew nods from examiners.
The articulate answers played a big role in her eventual declaration as the winner. And with that, history was made on that warm Saturday night at The Mall in Westlands. Finali, 24, became the first Kenyan of Indian descent to be crowned Miss World Kenya.
Struck by her composure during the September 8 pageant, I would later ask her the secret to her calm. It turned out that her performance in the question-and-answer segment of the popular pageant had contributed to her win in past contests. This boosted her confidence.
Finali’s win caught the attention of the Times of India, the third largest newspaper in the Asian country, which uploaded a 50-second video of her achievement on its website four days after her victory.
“She bested more than 20 other candidates for the right to compete at the Miss World finals in December in Sanya, China,” indicates one of the slides in the video.
But locally, not everyone was welcoming, and some used online platforms to question how a Kenyan-Indian can be the face of the country.
But Finali is unfazed by such negativity.
“I am very much Kenyan,” she says with a loud, proud voice, a big smile on her face.
“I am part of the 44th tribe of Kenya and even though I do not look stereotypically Kenyan, I am a Kenyan in the inside. Mimi ni wa Kenya!” she declares. “I was born and brought up in Kenya and, just like every other Kenyan, I love the rains and hate the traffic and the mosquitoes that come with it.”
Finali was born in Nairobi on September 13, 1994, to her proud and supportive mother. Her two younger siblings are Hemanshi Galaiya and Darpan Galaiya.
Her path to stardom was not always easy.
“My family and I are very humbled to be where we are today and it’s all thanks to my mother’s selfless dedication and hard work,” she says.
From the get-go, I can easily tell how much Finali truly values her family as she not only appreciates their support but also their presence, especially during her ups and downs.
“When I was growing up, my mother struggled to bring us to where we are today. Without any family help or support from the outside, my mother worked tirelessly to give me and my siblings a quality education and life, and for that, I am forever grateful,” she says with a reminiscent smile on her face as tears well up in her eyes.
Her mother is not the only one she thanks for mentoring her and teaching her valuable lessons. She also credits her teachers, especially a Miss Jennifer and a Mr Solomon who she says she will never forget.
“Not only did these two teachers mentor me but they were also beautiful human beings from whom I learnt so much,” she says.
Finali is not only a beautiful face, but quite intelligent as well. She is one paper short of graduating and becoming a chartered accountant. She only got into pageantry and modelling as a hobby.
And beauty runs in the family.
“My mother was a model back in the day and maybe that unconsciously led me to pursue modelling,” she says with a little giggle. “I joined the industry in 2011, and what started off as a hobby led to a successful career seven years later. I have made it and landed with a bang.”
Before Finali won the title of Miss World Kenya, she previously participated in many other pageants where she won several titles, such as the Miss Attitude East Africa 2016 and Miss India Worldwide Kenya 2016-2017.
“Apart from all these titles”, she says, “I hold the most important title of being a daughter and a sister, which is equally as important and it is a responsibility I take very seriously too.”
Finali is aware of the responsibility that comes with being a title holder.
“I believe in giving my 100 per cent in everything I do and like to concentrate on one task. This is why I put a pause to my studies to pursue modelling. I now only have one paper left to complete before I graduate,” she says.
During preparations for the pageants, Finali faced many challenges.
“My family’s constant encouragement stood strong throughout the whole process,” she says.
Asked about her most memorable experience when preparing for the pageant, she laughs as she says, “I remember telling the coaches to give me more criticism.”
“I know people run away from things like that, but I am someone who appreciates being told what I am doing wrong so that I can be the best that I can be,” says Finali.
And she got a lot of criticism.
“But here I am and it is all thanks to that and it’s also how I learnt and grew in this industry,” Finali says.
She recalls the blurry happiness that engulfed her when she was crowned Miss World Kenya 2018.
“When they called out my name, all I can remember is seeing my mother crying in the audience and then it hit me like a cold breeze on a sunny day. I am Miss World Kenya!” she says with a smile on her face.
She goes on: “I have witnessed many Kenyans saying words of encouragement and showing so much love and that only makes me stronger and more grateful to be a part of a country like ours, Kenya.”
The International Ambassador of Safeguard Widows and Orphans Foundation (Sowo) says her focus is to make “my country, my Kenya proud”.
It is through Sowo that she launched her own campaign dubbed “Hapana: The Right to Say No”.
She gestures a cross signal with her hands as she utters the name of her campaign, which focuses on women and their right to say no to widow-cleansing — a rampant practice in some Kenyan communities.
When I expressed my surprise at the phrase, she explained: “Widow-cleansing is when a widow has to partake in sexual intercourse with another man in order to be ‘cleansed,’” she says.
“Not only does this narrow a woman’s place in society but gives people the notion that women are an item and can be tossed around from man to man,” she says.
Finali explains that it is very important to empower and educate women so that they can make their own choices and decisions and give them the rightful equality they deserve.
Her project also champions children’s rights, with respect to widow cleansing.
“Children of widows and widows are often shunned by society. We are trying to empower women so that they can become more self-sufficient. With partners such as Uber Kenya and Darling Kenya, we’re helping these women learn new skills and become breadwinners,” she explains.
She says working with Sowo has been rewarding. “While most people go to NGOs to give, I can tell you for a fact I’ve received: love, lessons and lifelong memories,” she says.
Finali takes the responsibility of being crowned Miss World Kenya very seriously. “From the moment I was crowned Miss World Kenya, I ceased to be Finali. I am now an embodiment of my people and my country. This means that I no longer have the time or leisure to meet up with friends and simply hang out. I have a responsibility, one which I take very seriously. My time as Miss World Kenya is merely a year which I must utilise to help as many causes as I can and do as much as I can to make you, my fellow Kenyans, proud,” she says.
She believes in dressing well and appropriately at all times. But she says she is unfazed by the pressure on social media.
“I take each day at a time on social media. If things get too overwhelming, I take a break from it and then return when the time is right. That is very important,” she says.
As for her future plans, she says that just like everyone, she’s going with the flow. “I stopped planning my life since 2016. My life has been a rollercoaster ride ever since and I can only be thankful for the wonderful life God has planned out for me. So, I’m taking each day at a time,” notes Finali.
She has now set her sights on the Miss World title and she banks on her fans.
“This crown and title are a win for us Kenyans. It wouldn’t have been possible without you and it still isn’t. Let’s go for Miss World together and, with your prayers and unconditional support, I will work hard to bring the crown home!”