REPRESENTING: Anita Ayebare, 24, participated at this year’s Miss World Tourism pageant that took place in Croatia. At the finale that was held on June 1, 2019, she emerged the fourth runner-up. She shares her tourism journey and experience at the finale pageant with Esther Oluka.
Congratulations on taking fourth place at Miss Tourism World.
How did you embark on your tourism journey?
My tourism journey started in 2017 after graduating from university in February that year. I contested in Miss Tourism Ankole in September and emerged as overall winner Miss Tourism Ankole 2017. My regional victory guaranteed me a placement in the Miss Tourism Uganda finals that were held later that year in October.
I emerged second runner-up and there were rewards for the first three finalists, which included opportunities to participate at different international tourism pageants. In my case, my prize included participating at the 2017 Miss Tourism World International finale. However, the pageant did not take place that year nor in 2018. The Miss Tourism World International contest was instead held this year in Croatia on June 1.
I thought for one to participate in a current world beauty pageant, they should have been a recent winner in their respective country.
Not really. You do not have to be a current winner. As long as you participated in any tourism pageant that was held in your home country, even as far back as five years, you can participate. But also, you have to meet their requirements in terms of body size, height and age. For example, participants at Miss Tourism World should be at least between 18 and 27 years old.
How did you prepare yourself before flying out for the contest?
Back home, I sought the services of a renowned model management agent, Joram Job Muzira, whom I requested to train me. He taught me how to walk, speak, pose and use cutlery, among other things. Muzira was also very helpful in boosting my confidence. I remember he repeatedly told me that I could make it and should not be scared of the other contestants. That kept me strong and hopeful. Then, a few months towards the Miss Tourism World event, I started applying for a visa but, gosh, it was a real hassle. I suffered.
How exactly did you suffer?
Croatia does not have a visa information office in Uganda. There is one in South Africa, though, so I had to go to South Africa to process the visa, in vain. One of the reasons I did not travel to South Africa is because it was not a guarantee that I would get it. I heard of stories where people spent a lot of money on travel and application fees only to be denied a visa. So, I stayed and thought of another way. I reached out to the Embassy of Uganda in Turkey to come to my rescue. The ambassador of Uganda in Turkey heard my cry and helped me secure the visa. Once it was ready, I travelled to Turkey, picked it up and then connected to Croatia for the event.
Did you travel with someone?
No, I travelled alone. I was supposed to be accompanied by someone but it did not happen because of visa issues. It is probably because of visa issues that we were only two African competitors at the pageant. The other African girl was from Benin.
Tell us about Croatia. How did you find the other girls?
I arrived in Croatia on May 23. The other girls were from New Zealand, Australia, Cyprus, Japan and Taiwan, among other countries. We must have been less than 60 girls and we were staying and having our meals at a hotel called Mulino, Lux Casino Hotel, a five star hotel in Croatia. I thought the other girls would be mean but surprisingly, they were nice. From time to time, they would ask me questions about my country and its people. I was closest to Polka, the contestant from Poland. She was really nice, and warm towards me.
Did any girl leave you intimidated?
Was there anything that surprised you about Croatia as a country?
I hardly saw Black people in Croatia, not even mixed race. It is perhaps because of the difficulty Africans face in securing their visas. Most people I met in Croatia were White.
What preparations did you undertake before the finale?
Part of the preparations included training sessions that went on for hours. There was a team that trained us how to walk, pose, among other practices. Oh! There were also so many photoshoots. The whole training process was too hectic. Then, on the day of the finale (June 1), we left the hotel for another venue. While there, we had to do a dry run (rehearsals) that started from 10am until 4pm. The finale was held later that evening. We had to do a dance routine and showcase national costumes, among other activities.
There was no question and answer session at the finale.
Our performance was based from the evaluation from boot camp. I am not sure exactly about the qualities they considered. Probably they looked at character, eloquence, among other things. But also, I think they looked at how we expressed ourselves in the English language because many of the girls could not speak it well. I must have also scored marks from my national costume because I got quite a number of compliments for it. I came fourth. Third runner-up was Cyprus, second runner-up was Finland, First- runner-up was Poland and the overall winner was Australia.
How did you feel after the announcement?
I was shocked to hear my name. Top 5? Wow! I was like ‘glory to God’. Before the announcement, it was difficult to tell whether I would get a placement among the final girls. This is because every participant was brilliant and beautiful.
Did the win come with any rewards?
All the final five girls were given shopping bags, sashes and a money prize — the amount is my secret. In addition to these prizes, I will embark on different campaigns during my one-year reign. Back home, I plan on using my win to advocate for the safety of tourists, considering the recent kidnapping of tourists in the country. I will also work on projects focused on climate change.
Have you always had this interest in beauty pageants?
Right from childhood. I remember one of my elder sisters, Brenda Ankunda, and I watching popular pageants on TV and getting blown away. Along the way, we became passionate about the pageants. Ankunda participated in Miss Tourism 2014/15 and I followed her in pursuing our mutual dream.
Your last words…
I want to urge every girl out there never to give up on their dream. It does not matter what other people tell you. If you desire something, go for it. Work hard, involve your close family members in your aspirations so that they can support you. But also, most importantly, pray that God is your guide through it all. To everyone out there who helped me in one way or another to perform well in Croatia, especially my parents, siblings, friends, Pastor Wilson Bugembe who prayed for me, I am grateful. I also thank the Minister of Tourism, Prof Ephraim Kamuntu and Lilly Ajarova, the Uganda Tourism Board CEO, for their support.
Anita Ayebare is 24 years old. She was born to Col. Steven Kabaringo Atukwase and Annet Kamusiime, a primary school teacher. She is the fifth born in a family of six children. She attended Victoria Nile Primary School in Jinja, St Lawrence, Horizon campus, Hana International School Uganda and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Ethics and Human Rights from Makerere University in 2017.