“Who is Shirley Akinyi?” I inquired in my introductory question as my interview with this little girl begun.
“I am a model, an actress, a poet, a film maker, an environmentalist, a climate change activist, a charity ambassador, a charity champion,” she says as she counts her fingers with every mention of the positions.
“That’s fine, my interest today is to speak to you about the climate change aspect of you,” I interject.
“I am not done with Who is Shirley bit,” she interrupts, and I allow her to proceed.
“I am also a girl child ambassador, a talk show host (Tubonge na Shirley Show), a mentor, Cabinet Secretary for Cleanliness at our school, a first born in our family, and the Chief Executive Officer of Shirley Akinyi Eco Product,” she concludes, and pauses to wait for the next question.
Shirley Akinyi is 11-year-old Standard Six pupil at Arya Primary School in Kisumu, but the impacts of her talent are unmatched.
How she got into modeling
In 2014, while watching television, she spotted a young model matching during a show.
She approached her mum and requested that she be trained so that she could walk like that little girl on television.
“I approached a friend, who referred me to where I could get mentors to help her with talent development,” said Sophy Atieno, her mother.
After several months of practice, and showcasing, Akinyi had her first competition as Little Miss Vihiga County, where she emerged the winner.
In the same year, she competed for Little Miss Kisumu, and became the first runners up.
It was after this that her view of the world begun to change.
With interaction with friends during practice, they would be engaged in other community activities such as environmental conservation, and she learnt the skills of using plastic bottles to make house decorations.
Shirley Eco Products
When Lake Region Bulletin met her in the company of her parents, Akinyi had samples of her work.
Some of the samples included; flower vase for putting roses, trophy made of plastic, phone holder made of plastic bottle tops, among other products.
“Through the help of my mum and my teachers, I have gained the skills of making these things, and I sell. My parents then top up for me some money and we also get well wishers who top up and we use the money to buy foodstuffs which I donate to the families of the less fortunate kids,” she says.
During weekends or school holidays, she takes her time to collect plastic bottles dumped within her surrounding and in town.
She then cleans them, design products, and use threads to make products of her choice.
At times, she spends time visiting friends and neighbours to understand some of the challenges they go through, giving her the picture of which donations are relevant for each of the beneficiaries of her charity work.
Her vision is to make Shirley Akinyi Eco Product a huge entity which can help with environmental conservation through collection of plastic bottles, and also create job opportunities through training more young people on how to make the decorative products.
“We can then use the income to help more vulnerable people as I pursue my modeling career, which I would wish to do until I am too old to go on,” she says amid shy-full smiles.
“Sometimes I have discussions with my daughter, or see some of the products she makes from these plastic, I am wowed and sometimes fail to believe she is the one doing it. But I have learnt to support her and give her the opportunity to pursue her dreams,” says her mum.
Akinyi’s understanding of climate change issues is appalling. When she explains how plastics released into the environment find their way into Lake Victoria, chock the aquatic life, and contribute to the cycle of climate change gives a picture of a climate change expert.
She says she spends a lot of time in the internet learning about the entire concept of climate change, and how the young people can use the simple acts of kindness to help the situation.
In 2019, she was first runners up at Little Miss Kit Mikayi beauty competition, and the following year, she won the competition.
This same year, she was first runners up at Little Miss Humanity and Little Miss Kenya, with another first runners up in Little Miss Africa in 2021.
“My dream is to become Little Miss Universe, and I hope this will happen soon,” she says with adamant confidence.
Juggling academics and talent
The pride of her teachers is that she has managed to juggle her talent with academic work so well that she has always appeared among the top performers in class.
As a mentor, Akinyi sometimes puts her three younger sisters, and even classmates to task as she teaches them how to match as models.
In acting, her role model is Oscar Award Winner Lupita Nyong’o, while in modeling, her peer, a Form Three Girl Ramina Pollet it is.
“I am never overwhelmed by all these I do. With proper planning, I manage to excel in all of them, and with the support of my parents, teachers and mentors, I know I will never go wrong,” she says.