In July last year, Stockport-born Kea Bell was spending her nights living with the Maasai women in Kenya learning about their culture and way of life.
Only 17 at the time, Kea had spent eight months fund-raising for the trip by selling Kenyan-inspired artwork she had created.
It is just one example of the ‘positive and supportive’ nature of the now 18-year-old film composer student who already has a long list of accomplishments to her name.
In August, Kea was awarded with the Young Person trophy at the Outstanding Social Behaviour Awards (OSBA’s), which celebrates the positive impact people have made to the lives of others in the community.
During her time at Withington Girls’ School, Kea became the first black student to be head girl in the school’s 130-year-old history.
And the significance of that moment in history hasn’t been lost on her.
“At first, I did look at it that it was quite embarrassing that it had taken so long to happen but the way that society is moving on now means I can only see it in a positive light,” Kea tells the Manchester Evening News.
“This also happened before George Floyd so I knew it hadn’t just been made as a reaction to what was going on in the world – it was all down to my own graft and hard work.”
Having a leading role in her school allowed her to be vocal about the changes that needed to happen and what could be done to inspire further generations from different backgrounds.
“I’ve seen first-hand how the school has become more inclusive and diverse since,” Kea adds.
“Being head girl allowed me to be the face of the school from a black background. I was able to encourage other talented girls from the Caribbean African community to take an interest in the school by sharing my story with them.”
At the beginning of the year, Kea was also invited to join Greater Manchester’s Youth Combined Authority (YCA) on behalf of the Caribbean African Health Network (CAHN).
As part of the role, Kea is involved in reviewing projects and influencing policies set out by Andy Burnham.
“I love it,” Kea says. “Last week we did an environmental workshop that took all over lockdown to organise.
“They let us look at initiatives across Manchester and give us full responsibility to design resources, create videos and make presentations from a youth perspective.”
Kea, who has just recently started university, is also a finalist for Miss Cheshire 2021 after the opportunity managed to fall in front of her.
“It wouldn’t have necessarily been something I would have entered beforehand but someone actually entered me for it and I thought lockdown would be the perfect time to do something new,” she says.
“I’m usually one to take full advantage of the opportunities sent my way – if something falls in front of me, I’ll take it.”
The Miss Cheshire pageantries were halted by the ongoing pandemic but plans are currently lined up to find a winner in March.
Until then, different rounds are taking place to show each finalist’s eligibility for the title.
Alongside a photoshoot and an environmental round, where Kea made a recyclable outfit out of her old GCSE notes, there is also the need to raise money for charity.
Coincidently, Miss Manchester’s chosen charity this year is One Woman At A Time which helps empower women across India, the UK and Kenya.
“I was super happy when I heard the charity for Miss Cheshire would be helping Kenyan women,” Kea says.
“My original plan would be to ride the distance from Manchester to Dundee on my exercise bike at home. I used to live in Dundee so I knew the distance by car, but I might have to change the plan now that I’m living at university.”
Upon receiving the Young Person award at the OSBAs, Kea was recognised for her ‘outstanding contribution’ in becoming the first black head girl at her school.
Community activist Dr Erinma Bell and sponsor Flight Sgt Neal Strickland, on behalf of the RAF, acknowledged her ‘positive and supportive’ nature and pointed out how Kea was a ‘great role model and ambassador for other girls in her community’.
When asked how she felt to have achieved so much at a young age, Kea said she no refused to see age as an ‘indicator’ of success.
“I’ve just been surrounded by so many young people who want to do so much to help,” she explains.
“They’ve shown me that my voice can be heard. Do what you can and when you can do it. If you succeed, then hopefully others are able to benefit from it too.”
Asked what the future holds, Kea says she is keen to become a film composer and work on feature films and nature documentaries.
She also has ambitions of being a motivational speaker.
“My parents have always taught me to strive for whatever you want and go out and get it,” she says.
“I’m very grateful for that and I always keep that mentality in my head.
“I always want to keep on pushing and set myself new challenges every year. I think that if you only do what you already know you can do, you’ll never be more than what you are right now.
“Sometimes I forget I’m 18 and i’ve just started university, but if the opportunity arises then I’m always going to go and take it.”
To vote Kea for Miss Cheshire, you can visit the Miss Manchester website here.