|Article by Ogova Ondego
Published September 6, 2007
A woman described by the jury as ‘humble, graceful and very natural’ who ‘would go a long way in raising awareness for the East African under-privileged children’ was on September 1, 2007 declared Miss East Africa UK. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
Maureen Nyakaira, a Ugandan studying medical physics at Cardiff University in Wales, beat off tight defence to steal the crown from contestants from Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Malawi at the prestigious Conway Hall in London.
As the crowd cheered and head judge Rachel Ritfeld described her as ‘humble, graceful and very natural’, Ugandan Nyakaira could hardly believe she had grabbed the crown. “I was shocked at fist. Is it me, really?” she said. “I will remember this night for the rest of my life.”
According to Ritfeld, Nyakaira will “go a long way in raising awareness for East African under-privileged children.”
Guests from Africa and Europe graced the occasion at which Sudanese rapper and ex-war child soldier, Emmanuel Jal, and Ugandan girl band, Blu*3 member Cindy, performed.
Jal wowed the crowd with his unique style of gospel rap with its message of peace and reconciliation born out of his experiences as a former combatant before he was smuggled to Kenya from the war-torn Sudan.
“I am honoured to be here to support a good cause and I commend Pauline Long for standing up for vulnerable children, children orphaned through HIV/AIDS and Genocide,” Jal said. He expressed interest in working with the newly crowned Miss East Africa UK, Nyakaira, through his GUA Africa charity that works with individuals, families and communities in enabling them to overcome effects of war.
Nyakaira, the second Miss East Africa UK winner, is expected to emulate her predecessor Brenda Akot’s accomplishments and achievements in charity work in the UK and East Africa.
“I wish you all the best and I trust you will be a brilliant ambassador for the East African children,” Akot told her successor Nyakaira while handing the crown to her.
The first assignment for Nyakaira is for her to volunteer at Forever Angels Baby Home in Mwanza, Tanzania. She travels to the home, that accommodates 23 orphaned and abandoned babies and infants, in October 2007. Here, she is expected to deliver nappies, wipes, baby food, toys and, generally, items required for baby care.
Forever Angels Baby Home provides nutrition, love, health care, physical and emotional support until the child is either fostered, adopted or reunited with their family.
However, charity work is not foreign to Nyakaira who in 2006 travelled with friends to her village in Uganda where they built a school for needy children.
After the Tanzania trip Nyakaira will head to Uganda in January 2008 to visit Pearl Child Care Home in Jinja. She will also continue to do campaigns for Nyumbani Children’s Home and Rafiki Children’s Home in Kenya, Orphans of Rwanda and Edukaid of Tanzania.
Apart from charity, Nyakaira has won a one year modelling contract with UK’s top modelling agency, Mahogany Models. She will also model for Grace Shannan Designs and will appear in various leading UK magazine spreads.
It is gratifying to see selfless people like Long and others keeping Africa on the world map. However, looking at the list of the contestants, one cannot help asking how Miss East Africa UK organisers define ‘East Africa’. Why, pray, would they include Malawi, a southern African country and exclude Rwanda and Burundi or eastern Congo-Kinshasa which can rightfully claim their ‘East Africanness’?
However Long says “Malawi also falls under East Africa if you look at the map.
No one, she reiterates, “was excluded from the competition; it is easier to get representatives from some countries than others.”
But why does Miss East Africa UK appear to be a Ugandan affair based on the number of contestants from the Pearl of Africa nation and the fact that the winners in 2006 and 2007 are Ugandan?
“This is not a Ugandan affair but an event that is open to all East Africans,” Long says. “It just happens that the Ugandan contestant shone on the night of the competition. There was only one East African judge while the rest were from all over Africa and Europe. They looked for a good ambassador to work with children and that was how they came to settle on Maureen. In fact Maureen, although Ugandan, is heading to Tanzania next month to carry out charitable duties there. She represents not only Uganda but the whole of East Africa. And last year’s winner, although Ugandan, did some charity work in Kenya at Nyumbani and Rafiki Care homes.”
So how does Miss East Africa UK define ‘East Africa’?
“We have actually called it East Africa but in essence we are covering eastern Africa; a beautiful part of Africa with plenty of tourist attraction, beautiful, intelligent, and hard-working people, green land and a place of peace and tranquillity.”
Long, a Kenyan resident in the UK, established the Miss East Africa UK beauty pageant in 2006 to highlight the plight of the East African child.
Long, who says she went to the UK in the 1990s to study hospitality and hotel management, comes from Ndhiwa in Nyanza Province where she attended St Albert’s Ulanda Girls’ School. She is 31 and married with two children.
All pictures courtesy of Miss East Africa UK