Jacqueline Ingabire’s resolution for 2013 was a simple one: Take a few chances.
“I decided that I would never know if I’m good at something if I didn’t try it out. In life you win some and lose some, but what matters are the lessons you draw from the experience. It helps you get to the next level.”
Late last year, when fliers announcing an upcoming beauty pageant flooded her hostel at Umutara Polytechnic in Nyagatare, she knew it was time to strike; time to make a go at the first ever Miss Gender University 2013.
“The minister for gender at the university brought me a flier and when I looked at the requirements, everything was check,” she quips.
Among the list of requirements for pre-qualification were; a minimum height of 1.7 m, no previous participation in a beauty pageant, and no record of plastic surgery.
And as far as the requirements were concerned, the 4th year Bachelor of Commerce and Applied Economics (Finance) student had many things going for her. Not only was she national secretary of ARBEF, an association that advocates good family health, she was of requisite height (1.71 m).
“The pageant was not just about beauty, but brains too. Everyone I met asked me if I had applied, saying I was eloquent and with good height.”
With that, she submitted her application forms online. That was on December 18, 2012. A month later, she received a text confirming her pre-selection; a text she still keeps to this day.
“We were three from my university, and we were subjected to an online vote from which I emerged winner. I was very happy to be representing a whole institution (Umutara Polytechnic), not just myself. This made me take the contest more seriously.”
One contestant was picked from each of the fifteen participating universities, and it is these that would tussle it out at the finale at the Petit Stade in Remera.
Saturday, March 22, the day of the pageant started on a rainy note. Jacqueline recalls that it rained for three straight hours, causing delays in the day’s schedule of events.
“I woke up very early, at 6:00 am, so to be ready for the salon at 7:00 am. Because of the rain, all fifteen of us were late for salon. When we finally got there, it was all friendly and laughter filled the air. We kept encouraging each other and advising on the best hairstyles for each person.
By 3:00 pm, the group was leaving Maza Salon and headed for lunch, en route to Petit Stade. From lunch, the group relocated to the Ikaze showroom near St. Michael’s Church, “to relax a bit and perfect the catwalk”.
At 7: 00 pm, the girls arrived at the venue.
ALL IS NOT WELL
It was then Jacqueline realized one of her costumes was missing. It was her university attire, which was the first item of clothing to be showcased on stage by each contestant.
“I got so stressed that I freaked out,” she recalls, now with a smile.
A driver was arranged for her, with who she rushed back to the Ikaze showroom where, luckily, she found her garment.
“But my eyes were about to pop out. It gave me a mini heart attack,” she jokes.
She contends that the experience affected her, although in a positive way, “because finding my dress calmed me down, so I cat walked very calmly on stage.”
The catwalk eventually fell open at 8:00 pm, for the contestants to strut their stuff. She recalls that there was a lot of cheering, and ululation rented the air from the audience as people routed for their respective contestants, some aided by Vuvuzela and drums.
With her university a whole three hours drive out of Kigali, she had no crowd to speak of.
“As I strutted on stage, I remember spotting my Dean of students, my mom and a few friends at the back of the audience. That was all the inspiration I needed. I knew from then that I had to do my absolute best.”
Even as she hoped for the best for herself, she still kept praying to her God, telling Him that “whoever won, I’d accept it.”
It was not until the last five finalists were named, that the spirit of competition kicked in. All she wanted was to win, just like her competition.
So high were the stakes that when contestant number seven was eventually declared winner, she could not be sure if she was the one. She looked over and over at her contestant number, strapped boldly across her torso, much to the bemusement of the audience.
“It was such a great moment that I got completely overjoyed. So much tears of joy flowed freely from my eyes,” she recalls.
With her win came a prize of 5 million francs, plus a year’s free subscription for Sulfo beauty products.
The 5 million prize comes with a catch; it was not a cash handout. Rather, the Business Development Fund (BDF), which pledged the sum will help Jacqueline finance a project of her choice worth that amount.
She is rather tight-lipped about the nature of investment she intends to undertake.
“I have a couple of projects in my mind, but I haven’t singled out a particular one. All I know is that it has to be near my university (Umutara Polytechnic) in Nyagatare, so that other students can benefit from it too.”
SAME OLD GIRL
“I still do house work, take a bus ride around town, and maintain the same list of friends,” she says. “Perhaps what has changed is the direction of my thoughts. I’m more interested now in looking at how other people have made it in life. Everyday, I try to learn something new about gender.”
Her role model, she says, is First Lady Jeannette Kagame. “Here is a woman who looks at nurturing young people into what they hope to become. Her Imbuto Foundation rewards best performing girls in school, and she has had a significant role in fighting HIV.”