IT IS THAT TIME OF THE YEAR when the whole country is talking about Miss Rwanda. The annual beauty pageant becomes one of the most talked-about topics at the beginning of each year as members of the public pick their favourite contestants as the voting ensues. Over the years, Miss Rwanda has evolved with time, as new aspects are introduced to the pageant, while the prizes and benefits accrued have also increased over the years, attracting many young women. This year’s pageant was by far the most talked-about pageant, with many on social media questioning if the Miss Rwanda ‘pandemic’ edition ‘was necessary’ when the organisers announced that this year’s edition will be held both virtually and in a bubble. The organisers went on to prove doubters wrong, with the auditions attracting over 400 contestants, who registered, out of which 37 were picked to proceed to the pre-selection phase. Last weekend, on March 6, 20 girls were picked to proceed to the boot camp, which is currently taking place at La Palisse Nyamata. A closer look at this year’s edition, the brain aspect of the ‘Beauty, Brain and Culture’ theme has been emphasized, with the contestants expected to benefit in terms of development of their capacity as well as career and interpersonal skills. The contestants are currently in the boot camp at La Palisse Nyamata This year particularly, all the 20 girls are expected to receive scholarships at University of Kigali as well as baking courses from Peters Bakers. “This year we have focussed our efforts on ensuring that the girls get the necessary skills to help them in their lives even beyond Miss Rwanda. We believe that the pageant, is a platform through which girls can come and leave feeling different,” says Meghan Nimwiza. “Apart from scholarships, the contestants are also given public speaking skills, entrepreneurial skills as well as training on common knowledge such as current affairs, national policies and other forms of training that make them leave better equipped and more knowledgeable,” she added. This year, the girls in the boot camp will be trained by different experts with knowledge in different areas, while their interpersonal skills will also be honed while in the boot camp. On Monday, the girls were equipped with public speaking and communication skills as well as other aspects that boost self-confidence and esteem. “It starts with me, I affirm it and it will happen” the girls vowed during the afternoon session on public speaking and building self-confidence, which was hybrid in nature (both physical and virtual). Prof. Harald von Korflesch, the project director of StArfrica and professor for Entrepreneurship at University of Koblenz, virtually briefed the girls about entrepreneurship, conceiving ideas and bringing them to reality. The Project Manager of StArfrica in Rwanda, Katharina Hartwig, together with Sylvia Makario, a space technology engineer and female entrepreneur, and Natacha Karangwa, an actress, spoken word artist and project coordinator Generation Rise Rwanda, took the girls through an interesting session. Among other skills, the contestants were tipped on self-affirmation, discovering their inner passion and confidence to believe in themselves that they can do whatever they set out to do in order to achieve their goals in life. They were also trained on standing tall, being able to express their ideas while speaking firmly as well as skills to identify their weaknesses and inefficiencies and be able to work on them. “At Miss Rwanda, we take the brain aspect of the pageant as the most important and believe that the best way to empower girls is to give them access to education and train them with the necessary skills they need,” emphasizes Nimwiza. She said that since 2014, at least half of the contestants, including the winners, have gone on to start their own initiatives which are making a difference in the society. Speaking recently, Patience Iribagiza, the co-founder and Executive Director of Afro Ark, a young women-led and community-based organisation, founded to address challenges faced by women, children, and youth in Rwanda, said that Miss Rwanda as a platform gave her the exposure she needed to spur her ambitions.