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Studio Africa: Flaviana Matata

Flaviana Matata is an international catwalk model who runs a foundation for the education of orphaned girls in her home country of Tanzania

“I was like, come on. I’m bald, first of all,” laughs Flaviana Matata, her eyes dancing with a mischievous light that could be her trademark as she recalls friends encouraging her to enter the Miss Universe Tanzania pageant back in 2007. At the time she was studying electric engineering at college in Arusha, Tanzania. Being a beauty queen was the last thing on her mind. “I used to be a tomboy. I still am,” she grins. However her friends had their way: “I’d never seen a beauty queen with a bald head so I thought I’ll try it. I went, I won.” Something clicked for Flaviana there and then. “Immediately after I won the crown in Tanzania I was like, I can do this. I don’t want to take it as a one year thing, this is going to be my career. This is going to change my life, my family’s life, the community in general, so I took it serious.”

That dedication led her to a modeling contract in South Africa and then, following a chance meeting with hip hop mogul Russell Simmons who championed her across the pond, Flaviana’s international career really took off in 2009. She’s walked the runways of New York, Paris, Tokyo and London, modeled for Vivienne Westwood, Tommy Hilfiger and Alexander McQueen, and worked with Mario Testino, Nick Knight and Dazed & Confused magazine. For all the highflying, what’s never left her is an eternal modesty. “I’m very thankful to my agents because they believe so much in me. As a model you can’t do it by yourself, you have people behind you.”

A deep understanding of what can be achieved with love and support was something she learned from her mother who used to pay the school fees of local children who couldn’t afford it. “Some countries take education for granted but in Africa people really want to go to school.” Tragically, her mother died in the MV Bukoba ferry disaster when Flaviana was just nine years old. “I miss her most now. I’m at that age when I need somebody to trust - a mother’s love - but she’s not there. Sometimes it’s like, what am I doing in this world? I have a dad but I’m missing my mum so I’m imagining those kids who don’t have both parents...” she says, her eyes softening. “I’m trying to put myself in their shoes. They need people around them, they need our love, they need our support.”

Having long supported a number of charities connected to Africa, Flaviana launched the Flaviana Matata Foundation in 2011 with the primary aim of supporting the education and development of girls in Tanzania. “They say education is the key of life and I’m concentrating on girls because I believe if we educate one woman, we educate the world,” she says. With that vision she is sponsoring the education of fifteen girls from local orphanages using funds raised from a percentage of every modeling job she does. She pays for school fees, uniform, books. “I’m like their mother,” she laughs. In the future she’d like to grow the foundation but for now she is focused on being there for the long haul with the girls she is currently supporting. “I have to see their success at their end of the day,” she smiles. “It’s all about baby steps.”