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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Meet the new Miss Uganda

She may never have journeyed beyond the borders- in fact, she just got her premier passport but come November, 22- year-old Praise Juliet Asiimwe will be Uganda's lone star at this year's Miss World beauty pageant in China.

Asiimwe, the first daughter of reverend Elly Akankwasa and Mrs Joice Akankwasa, is a third year Mass Communication student at Makerere University Kampala. The jolly girl who marched with Down Town Models two weeks before she was knighted 'Miss Uganda 2005' is ordinary no more.

The shapely belle nowadays receives innumerable text messages, emails and phone calls of well-wishing in her endeavour as the new priestess of beauty and fashion.

While it remains controversial (like it has always been) how organisers handled the selection process, it still is a great song for those who know Asiimwe considering that she beat fourteen others in tense competition held at Little Flowers, Bat Valley, in Kampala.

With remarkable physical attributes, the poise and grace of a dove, unquestionable intellect, nothing seems set to deter this Rukurungi daughter from conquering the world the way Nigerian - born, Agbani Darego did when she was crowned Miss World 2001.

Ms Eunice Rukundo, a classmate and sworn friend of Praise describes her as "a go-get-it-girl who never ceases to amaze. I'm town bred, she was brought up in the village but I've not done half of what she's accomplished."

That says much about the passion and drive of the daddy's girl who promises to take this nation to the promised land of modeling. But how did she do it?

"The hand of God was in this. And it still is," is what Asiimwe says. Her name, loosely translated means 'thanks be to God,' while her father's name means; 'He helped me.' Her mummy's name is contracted as 'Joy' to mean 'exultant happiness.' Is fate about to ordain endless joy for the Akankwasas?

One sure thing is that millions of people will be watching as Asiimwe vies for the highly coveted Miss World. Already, she's undergoing upbeat training at Tiner International School of Beauty located on Kibuli road -Kabalagala. Ms Ruthy T. Kibirige, the Principle/Director talks fondly of her: "Chances are high that she's going to perform to her level best because she's eloquent, confident, very knowledgeable and above all, she's is the right size.

"I'm so happy we are working together. We are grooming her…we have to change her image, the way she talks, the way she walks, the way she looks - there is a special way of doing things at pageants like that," says Ruthy.

Whilst several people are skeptical about the new institution of Miss Uganda asserting that it cannot be the same without Sylvia Owori, the new organisers are optimistic that Ms Praise will be the girl to assuage these fears. Soon she will be assembled before the public - how she will be judged depends on the taste of different fashion enthusiasts.

On her part, Praise promises to use her office as Ms Uganda to lead the fight against Aids. "I'll not say I'm going to emphasize abstinence because I also have my misgivings about it but I want to hit a landmark so that when I'm out, people will say, 'oh that's the girl who helped cut down on the Aids scourge,'" she quips.

Sure, she may not achieve what Miss Uganda 2001 Victoria Nabunya whose Mammogram Fundraising project resulted in the purchase of a machine that detects breast cancer, or Dr. Rehma Nakuya (2002) who promoted reproductive health and made the lives of the underprivileged better or still Aysha Salma Nassanga (2003) who laid a platform of promoting the Girl Child Education but Praise insists she will do great.

Her inspirationInspired by Oprah Winfrey, the celebrated philanthropist and host of the award-winning The Oprah Winfrey Show, Miss Uganda doesn't believe in impossibilities, which is why she won't be surprised if she takes the title of 'Miss World.'

"I wouldn't say I would cry because I'm not that emotional. My first thing would be to say a thank-you prayer to God," she says. "I would remain calm.' Calm, she is - this girl. And charming too! She laughs easily, gets along with almost everybody and one unique attribute is the innocent look.

She may be an unknown who has not been much exposed but so was Oluchi Onweagba when she rocked 1998 when she was picked out as the MNET Face of Africa. To date, the Nigerian-born supermodel still sensationalises many with her catwalk sways and moves. Who knows - this may be Praise' reign.

The girl who beat her male counterparts to win a government sponsorship slot at university almost three years ago never leaves behind her bag of surprises.
As a Senior Four student at Kinyasano Girls School in Rukurungiri, she thrilled guests by reciting poetry before the visiting president. The impressed Museveni kept alluding to her poem while giving his speech. Two years later, the managers of Radio Rukungiri were looking for the girl 'who recited a poem when the president visited' and that's how Praise found herself working as radio presenter.

"Then I was in my long vacation. It was exciting working on radio. It's always exciting when people hear your voice but they don't exactly know who you are and when they meet you, they go, 'oh, she's the one,'" says Praise.

And isn't it surprising that the 2005/2006 Miss Uganda went to upcountry schools? She began at Rugarama Child Centre, Kabale Primary School before moving on to Kigezi High School for S.1 to S.2. The family then shifted to their present home in Rukungiri which saw Praise join Kinyasano girls where she sat her ordinary level examinations. She did her advanced level education at Kibubura Girls School, performed excellently and was admitted to Makerere University.

Her favourite dishInterestingly, the girl who enjoys devouring a plateful of irish potatoes, matooke alongside groundnut sauce never thought of becoming a model until at university. She says: "I had dreams of becoming a serious radio journalist. I love the feeling of being behind the microphone - you know, presenting a programme."

And where is she headed many years ahead? "Well, I look at myself as a very serious public relations officer and human rights activist."

And good tidings lads - Praise Asiimwe Juliet is single. You however must be willing to abstain until the wedding night. The down-to-earth guy, the charming self and any good reader might enter her good books if he is confident enough to approach the Queen. Praise likes swimming, watching movies, going to church, praying, listening to the radio and reading.

"I love reading scientific journals and books about the environment," says the girl who is not 'abandoning my (her) books for Miss Uganda.' How she rates herself at the Miss World showpiece: "I know I'll make it. I've been known to break records. But if I don't make it, I intend to woo Miss World for a visit to Uganda."

The 5 feet 7 inches tall girl has her parents' blessings, and will be looking forward to replacing 21-year-old Maria Julia Mantilla Garcia of Peru who is the reigning Miss World. Like Zhao Tingting (Miss China 2005), Praise Juliet Asiimwe is well aware that to take part in the finals of the 55th Miss World Beauty Contest due this November will be a battle of the fairest. At least, she's in touch with reality.

Published in Daily Monitor, October 20, 2005