Yasipi Casmir Uwihirwe, the Miss Rwanda 2019 1st runner embodies the notion of ‘beauty with brains’, or ‘beauty with a purpose’.
The 18 year old came second after Megan Nimwiza at the Miss Rwanda 2019 grand finale at the Intare Conference and Events Arena in Rusororo last weekend.
But there is much more to her than the beauty that first meets the eye.
She is a poet, an innovator, tech enthusiast, and big dreamer.
“One of my main inspirations is that if someone is in Miss Rwanda, what is expected of her is to be exemplary and find something which can contribute to the development of the country,” she explained in this interview with Sunday Times on Friday.
“That is why I had gone into poetry – because it is something which has the power to transform lives.”
In October last year, Uwihirwe emerged winner in the Best English poem category at Kigali Vibrates With Poetry, a local poetry slam competition. Her winning entry was a poem titled Humanity 60.
Interestingly, she only discovered her poetic side following a poetry training and competition at her school last year.
The trainings and competition were organised by Transpoesis, the organisation behind Kigali Vibrates With Poetry. They took place at Lycee de Kigali, where Uwihirwe studied, Kagarama Secondary School, and Petit Séminaire in Ndera.
“It was a project we’ve been running with the Swiss Cooperation with the aim of training secondary students in poetic writing. The vision was that if young people know poetry and they know how to express themselves poetically, it connects them strongly with the culture, but it is also a tool for development,” explained Andrea Grieder, the Director of Transpoesis.
“Before this training, I didn’t know I was a poet. A team from Transpoesis came to our school and trained us for two days, after which a competition was organised. But I didn’t expect to win the competition.”
The competition started at school level, then proceeded to national level.
Uwihirwe won the school contest (Best English Poem for her poem; no man is an island. She then proceeded to the Kigali slam (pitting three schools from Kigali), and finally the national level.
“At the national level I presented the poem – Humanity 60, and won Best English Poem.”
As a high school student, Uwihirwe got a cash prize of Rwf150,000 cash prize for being the best high school student innovator.
It was the 10th edition of Kigali Vibrates with Poetry, which has been running for the last three years.
“This gave me more confidence because before, I didn’t know I was a poet.”
Today, she has seven poems to her name, and does not intend to stop. Her other poems include; You are the next generation, To you my 59, The real me which I’ve lost, and Titanic. But by far, Humanity 60 is the most poignant.
In the poem, she pours out her grudge with humanity and all its shortcomings:
It is a poem about how young girls are raped, “and it is written about in newspapers and social media, but most of the time it is not for the sake of helping people or finding solutions but just to feed their pockets with money”.
It is a poem about “how today’s youth are so addicted to social media and how it is what young people wake up to every morning, to amass a following, but mostly for reputations and leading nowhere”.
It is a poem about children who starve, “yet we feed ourselves six times a day. Today we are taught that you can create a dollar in a minute, but within five seconds, a child under five years is dying of hunger yet it could survive with a dollar”.
Uwihirwe is a poet and won the Best English poem category at Kigali Vibrates With Poetry.
“Yet we still consider ourselves human. What humans are we if we cannot let those lives live?”
The theme of humanity dominates most of her poems. As she puts it, the question is; “what world are we supposed to live in?” Other themes close to her heart are; racism, feminism, social media, and new technologies.
“If we really want to be humans who are not based on doctrines, we should put aside six differences, and honor the same blood that we share. These differences are religion, racism, status, identity, nationality, and language.”
“This vision that poetry can transform the lives of people is demonstrated very nicely by Uwihirwe,” explained Andrea Grieder from Transpoesis.
“I remember when she was performing in this competition at the school level, I saw that she was expressing not only the content but also a lot of emotions. A poem is also much about the person.
I saw that she has this scientific mind and an affiliation, a love for numbers, and that she is also an artist. Poetry is very much about observing behavior and conditions of human beings, and then it’s also about contributing to values within the society, and the poemHumanity 60 expresses these two dimensions to poetry.”
As Miss Rwanda 2019 1st runner up, her project seeks to assist families and parents to offer basic education to their children. She laments:
“Today’s youth face many challenges as they don’t get enough time to talk with their parents. Parents are too busy with making ends meet. Drugs, teen pregnancies, human trafficking are three main challenges the country is facing, resulting from how these people were treated when they were young.
My project will mainly focus on these children or youth to see if their understanding and vision can be shaped towards what the country is expecting from them.”
“I will be using my poetry to interact with and reach out to them because you may find that the youth may not be interested in sitting down for dialogue with people. What they like is something that is more entertaining, but in that entertainment there will be a message.
Uwihirwe was born in Ngoma District in the Eastern Province, where she attended primary school at Les Hirondelles. She moved to FAWE Girls’ School in Gisozi for her O-levels, and Lycée de Kigali for A-levels, where she studied Maths, Physics and Computer Science.
“When I went to A-level I started to engage myself in different things because I was joining the world of technology. I worked on different projects with different people.”
Last year, year, she won the Young Entrepreneur Startups (YES) Award that was organised by All Trust Consult Rwanda for a mobile application she had developed.
The app, she explains, “is about how ideas can be turned into actions or business ideas”.
“Winning the award gave me inspiration to continue working on different things, though the project is still at implementation stage.”
Since then, she has dabbled into several tech and innovation related endeavors. She attended a robotics camp organized by BK Tech House, intended to innovate solutions to problems in the agricultural sector.
“Our team of three built a robot which will be used in vertical farming systems. It is a system under development for solving the problem of shortage of agricultural land. Like you have an acre of land, you can add layers on top of that so that you can multiply the land and ultimately production.”
The robot was built as a prototype, and so far the project has been taken to two international summits here in Rwanda in a bid to source for funding.
Uwihirwe’s parting words
“My vision is to be in technology, finding solutions to different challenges. So far I have an initiative called Aspire – an NGO but not yet registered. That’s where I will be showcasing the different sides of me; poetry – to connect with and relate to people, while the beauty pageant will be about beauty with a purpose.”