By Tosin Ajirire and Damilola Fatunmise
IN furtherance of her pet project, Kits for Kids, former Miss Tourism Nigeria and Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2012 finalist, Tomi Lydia Salami, will play host to six beauty queens from different parts of the world.
While in the country, the beauty queens representing the USA, Canada, South Africa, India, Botswana and Puerto Rico will help galvanise support and serve as goodwill ambassadors for Salami’s Kits for Kids Africa.
Salami, who has quietly been impacting lives of thousands of impoverished kids across the country, said this year’s programme is a massive educational intervention like never before.
“From May 23 to 26, we will be giving out brand new school bags, sandals, stockings, exercise books, stationeries, lunch bowls, tooth brushes, water bottles and many more to public schools’ pupils in Kwara State,” she stressed.
In this chat with Entertainer, the University of Ilorin graduate of English Language offers more on her life as a model, beauty queen and philanthropist. Enjoy it.
Tell us about yourself?
I am Tomi Lydia Salami, ex-Miss Tourism Nigeria and the CEO, Aurora International, a beauty and lifestyle company. I am also the founder of Aurora Foundation, a charity organisation.
How did you come into pageantry?
I love performing and entertaining; I love beauty and I also love charity work. But it all began in 2006 when I started modeling with an agency. Back then when I was in school, people always complimented me based on my day-to-day look; I always loved to look good. Then came this fateful day when a lady approached me and asked if I had ever modeled before. I said the only modeling I had done was back in secondary school. It was called Miss Cute and I won. She was like ‘wow! We would love you to join our agency.’ But I didn’t get any attention until I went for MBGN in 2012 and emerged as MBGN Face of SelectPro, after which I went for Miss Tourism in Thailand; it was a fantastic experience.
How did you get to know about MBGN?
Everybody knows about MBGN and it has always been my dream to be a part of it. I used to watch beauty pageants on TV and I have always loved them. I remember very vividly the year Agbani Darego, who happens to be my senior in secondary school, won.
How was your experience in camp like?
It was amazing! You had to wake up very early, dress up and wear heels. And even if your feet are hurting, you must not complain but wear a smile. It was wonderful meeting a lot of girls from different backgrounds. But it became very challenging when it got to the bikini segment. And you know how parents feel when it comes to stuffs like that. But then I just had to do it and I did it well.
Was there any parental opposition especially in the aspect of you wearing bikini?
Oh yea! Right from the very beginning of my career, my parents have always been skeptical. In fact, my dad didn’t know about it initially, but after I won a cash prize as a brand ambassador for SelectPro, people started calling him that they saw me on TV and that I won but he wasn’t too happy. According to him, he was objecting to the indecency in dressing.
Has mummy always been supportive?
Initially she wasn’t fully in support. In fact, she didn’t know until the very last minute that I was going for MBGN. I am from a very decent home so my parents were initially not in support of it because of the general perception out there about modeling. I had to promise and assure her that modeling won’t change anything about me.
But when you won, they were happy?
Yes, they were all happy (smiles).
What have you been doing since you got back from Miss Tourism pageant?
I have been working on my beauty and lifestyle company. I also did a bit of presenting with fashion TV; I used to be a Red Carpet moderator and presenter for Fashion TV. What I did majorly was presenting radio drama and TV. And then I started coaching aspiring beauty queens. I also have an ushering firm, we provide ushers for events.
Tell us about your pet project, Kits for Kids Africa?
The Kits for Kids Africa is a platform set aside as part of what we do at Aurora Foundation. We support kids through education, we empower them in the areas of welfare and health. Education for the kids of Africa is our headline project. We have been doing it since 2013. We provide school bags, shoes and stationeries for children in public schools.
Now, how is 2016 going to be for you?
I am going to be exploring new and different avenues. We are bringing international beauty queens into Nigeria to get involved in the project. We have Miss USA, Miss Canada, Miss Botswana, Miss South Africa, Miss India, and Miss Puerto Rico. The six of them are actively involved in charity in their countries and they are so excited coming to Nigeria for support appearances on this project. They are going to be visiting a number of strategic tourist spots in Nigeria, so it is going to be wonderful and amazing and a thing to be remembered for a lifetime, not just only for the children but also everyone involved in the project. We are taking Africa to the world!
You’ve been talking more on tourism, how would you involve the states or federal government’s tourism agency?
We haven’t really explored the federal level but we have been reaching out for corporate sponsorship. So far, we have the Kwara State government partnering with us. This is just the beginning and a lot of people don’t know that the highest water fall in West Africa is here in Nigeria and that is one of the places the girls would be visiting. It is in Kwara State and known as Owu Falls. There is this legend that says that if you shout the name of the waterfall, it flows faster and I was there a couple of months back and I tried it and it worked. So, I want people to come and experience it and see other tourist attractions like Erin Ijesa and Ikogosi Falls among others.
When and where is the event holding?
It will run from May 23 to May 26. We are doing it in Kwara State for now and we are looking out for other states as well. So far, we have done it in Lagos and Ogun States. We’ve been to Kwara State as well, but that was our very first outing and it was on a smaller note. But we are going to take this as far as possible, and as long as God gives us the strength we need; we are determined to take this very far.
Coming back to pageantry, there’s this talk that pretty girls are often sexually harassed, have you been sexually harassed before?
Oh yes! You get advances every time, but like I used to tell ladies, it’s all up to you. You don’t have to mingle with anybody you don’t want to mingle with; and I think that is how it has been from time immemorial and I don’t think it would go away anytime soon.
There are some people who believe that because you are a lady they will give you terms and conditions before helping you, but you have the power to say no.
I always tell ladies that they shouldn’t make modeling their only source of income because that makes them vulnerable. Acquire education, do business or get a regular job by the side, so if you want to do something and someone says ‘come and rob my belle or something, you won’t.
And I also tell men that if you want to help a lady, you don’t necessarily give her a condition before you do it; just do it and the blessing that will follow will be more than 10 times anything she can offer you.
Can you give me an instance?
Me? (Laughter) Trust me, I see this almost on a daily basis; I experience it a lot.
Really? So, how do you cope?
Yea! I just tell people I am celibate and that is all.
When you emerged Miss Tourism, your parents took it nicely, how did your boyfriend feel?
Back then I had a boyfriend who wasn’t really down with beauty pageantry. The reason was because he was scared of losing me to another man. But then, he was truly supportive; he helped me with lots of things.
So, why are you no more dating him?
You know, we just knew it wouldn’t work out, so we had to part ways.
Are you in a relationship now?
Well, I am hoping to. I don’t like saying I need a man, so I tell people that I am waiting to be crowned.
What qualities do you look out for in a man?
My man has to be kind hearted, caring, and must have integrity. He should be good looking from the inside to outside because there are lots of men out there who are nothing to write home about.
Do you believe in love?
I believe so much in love. I am an incurable romantic.