Why Miss Rwanda contest is a big deal

Miss Rwanda 2018 grand finale. / Courtesy

Today, Saturday, January 26, Rwandans will know the lucky girl who’ll be representing her country as Miss Rwanda in 2019. First, I want to say good luck to each of the 15 girls who’ll be tussling it out at the grand finale before thousands of compatriots.

I was lucky to be part of a team that traversed this great country during Miss Rwanda auditions that eventually saw 20 girls enter the boot camp so they could be nurtured and empowered ahead of today’s finale. Five were subsequently evicted but there is no doubt that the experience and exposure they got during that time opened new doors for them and that they have a good future ahead of them if they put into practice what they learnt at the boot camp.

So why is Miss Rwanda contest increasingly appealing to many young Rwandan girls. Being a former Miss Rwanda myself (2016), it’s safe to say that I have ample evidence to show that platform is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young girls. The Miss Rwanda initiative is one of the various platforms that offer great opportunities to young Rwandan girls to discover and exploit their passions, their inner strengths, their potential and how far they can go with the right attitude and discipline.

I am living proof.

I am part of a generation of Rwandans that have been privileged to grow up under national leadership that actively supports and empowers young people and in a society that increasingly allows girls to express themselves and treat them in the same way they do boys. In fact, several recent studies have shown that Rwanda is one of the best places in the world to be born a girl.

Miss Rwanda is one of the avenues through which many young girls acquire a great deal of knowledge – from the rich Rwandan traditions and history to the values of Ndi Umunyarwanda and international affairs.

Contrary to what some people tend to believe, Miss Rwanda is more than just the beauty and the ultimate winner of the much coveted crown. It’s about all of the girls that turn up for the contest. It’s about a set of values. It’s about creating a large network of vibrant and ambitious girls drawn from across the country and inspiring a generation. It’s about showing possibilities and turning challenges into opportunities.

At the boot camp, the contestants do not only learn to be the very best versions of themselves, but also get to learn about their country, the challenges it faced long before they were born, the role of the youth in the country’s liberation and the need for the current generation of young people to follow in the footsteps of the older generations that put nation above self (sometimes paying the ultimate price), Rwanda’s place in the community of nations, among others. Indeed, almost all the girls that attend the boot camp leave with an informed perspective of their country and the world determined to play their part in making Rwanda a better place and to represent it with distinction.

For those who have had the opportunity to go on and represent their country in foreign or international beauty pageants they have proudly flown the national flag. When I emerged among top 20 beauty-with-a-purpose queens from a field of 119 contestants from around the world, I felt so proud of my country and thankful for the opportunity offered to me and so many young Rwandan women with whom we share an ambition of a bright future.

From my travels around the world representing my country during and after my reign I was able to talk about my country, explain to my peers from other countries about the history of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and how we have since emerged from the shadow of our tragic past to become a leader in so many aspects, including inclusive, home-grown initiatives, women empowerment, clean growth, technology among others. I saw how many fellow contestants from other countries were touched by the story of our nation’s rebirth and ambition. For me it felt like I was on a mission to let the world know who we are as a people and how we want to engage with the rest of the world. These are things that the girls are taught in the boot camp; to be good ambassadors of our country wherever we go.

But the contestants are also encouraged to go out there and partake in the effort to build Rwanda – in whatever small way – and to inspire compatriot peers and younger youths around Rwanda to believe in themselves, boldly pursue their dreams, and lead responsible lives.

I will forever be grateful to all those who supported me to offer Mutuelle health insurance to 1000 vulnerable residents of Karongi District and to set up 50 kitchen gardens for poor households in Kinyinya in Gasabo District. For beauty queens such causes are everything and every form support in that regard invaluable. Like President Paul Kagame told us in his New Year’s address we should continue to support one another as we seek to improve our livelihoods as a people.

As I conclude let me point out one more thing. Miss Rwanda is not just about beauty – it’s also about brains, it’s about decency, it’s about responsibility to impact your community. Thankfully, so many of the current contestants understand and embrace these ideals and have confidence that the next Miss Rwanda will do us proud.

Once again, I wish every girl who will be on stage at the Intare Arena looking to become our next beauty queen every success – today and in the future.

The writer is Miss Rwanda 2016.