Kerri Marks is a 36-year-old, vibrant woman from Morningside, Johannesburg. She is a Business Development manager for an inbound tourism publication responsible for promoting the beauty of South Africa to the world. Not only does she have a passion for this country and working with children, she also has an affinity for helping the underprivileged and driving important messages surrounding South African mental health, gender based violence and a cause that is close to her heart – neonatal ICU support.
Women in South Africa are bound to come across one, if not multiple challenges within the plethora of difficulties directly affecting women; and Kerri is no exception. She opted to conceive her middle child through the process of invitro-fertislisation, which unfortunately came with a series of complications for her pregnancy. During her 13th gestational week’s scan she discovered that one of her twin babies was deceased. This was followed by a delivery of a baby girl at 32 weeks, weighing only 1 Kilogram, the baby subsequently spent a total of 7 weeks in the neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. Needless to say, being a mother under Kerri’s circumstances at this point in her life would require a set of skills, resources and strengths that may not be readily available to all women. For this reason, Kerri has entered the Mrs South Africa pageant to be the voice and the driving force behind bringing these resources to all South African women.
She states, “I want to be the voice for women who have been and who might be in a similar position in the future, providing them with strength, support and comfort while they navigate their way through this difficult situation”.
She aims to bring attention and awareness to the occurrence of these types of situations, alerting women that they might be vulnerable to it despite having had a ‘perfect’ pregnancy before.
Being a Neo-natal ICU mom for Kerri meant juggling between the role of mothering her first daughter while tending to the medical and maternal needs of her baby in ICU. This period in her life not only tested her strength, but also challenged her mental and emotional health. This experience has led her into being a mental health advocate. “I want to address the complete removal of the stigma associated with getting help when dealing with anxiety, depression and related conditions” she notes. In addition to facing anxiety herself, Kerri has been looking after her mother for 12 years as she battles with mental health disorders. She has seen her mother through electroshock treatment and going in and out of hospitals over periods of time in a struggle towards mental wellbeing. Given the prevalence and relevance of mental health, especially during the Covid-19 era, Kerri feels that “the government is not doing enough to aid in the fight against mental health and related disorders when it should be taking priority. There is a need for far more campaigns being led by relevant, authoritative forces that have influence and can actually make a real impact on bringing change to the forefront of the mental health crisis.”
In light of recent developments regarding the gender based violence crisis in South Africa, Kerri has decided to share that she has been in an abusive relationship in the past and identifies with women who may currently be where she once was. She intends to encourage women to be brave enough to stand up for themselves and take charge of their lives. It is unfortunate that women are faced with complex situations that are sometimes too hard to step out of. However, it is not impossible to overcome them and Kerri is living proof.
Professionally, Kerri has the responsibility to market the country internationally and she comments, “The South African brand is an amazing one, the spirit of ‘ubuntu’ leads the way, followed by its aesthetic appeal and places rich in culture and heritage. It has so much value to offer the world including its beautifully diverse population”. She continues to make note of the underrated places to visit in South Africa, including Hermanus in the Western Cape, Graskop in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape region.
Kerri describes her overall Mrs South Africa journey as a ‘whirlwind’ because shortly after being announced as a semi-finalist at the end of February, the Coronavirus pandemic took over the world and lockdown measures were instilled in South Africa. This prompted a need for the reinvention and recreation of the format and design of participation with regard to the pageant. However, she mentions that despite the challenges, the journey has been rewarding and has encouraged her to do things that are outside of her comfort zone which she would have never done under normal circumstances. She says, “I have learned the value of adaptation and resilience. When curveballs are thrown at you, it is important to learn to reinvent the wheel when it is necessary”.
As a Mrs South Africa contender, Kerri intends to use the platform to endorse and promote various campaigns as an ambassador for meaningful change. She states, “I want to empower, and speak up on behalf of women from different backgrounds and upbringings. I intend to instill education and be an agent of support to neonatal ICU mothers and victims of the spectrum of abuse and I want to impact the mental health awareness state of the country.” Presently she has partnered with ‘Project Help’ to run campaigns that aim to stand up for women and aid victims affected by gender based violence. She has also started initiatives that collect food hampers, blankets and used clothing during these difficult times.
Overall, Kerri aims to align herself with women battling issues that can be alleviated through meaningful action and the provision of support. To her, the Mrs South Africa competition is more than just a pageant, it is a women empowerment programme designed for women with an inclination towards making a change.