FOREVER QUEEN: Quinn Abenakyo was crowned Miss Uganda and Miss World Africa 2018/19. Her remarkable achievements made her a huge sensation among many Ugandans with some even advocating that her term in office be extended. It’s coming to two years since Abenakyo handed over the two respective crowns. Esther Oluka caught up with her on life away from the limelight.
It is coming to two years since you handed over the two offices of Miss Uganda and Miss World Africa? Right?
Yes. I handed over the Miss Uganda Crown to Oliver Nakakande in July 2019. Then in November 2019, I flew to London and handed over the Miss World Africa crown to (then) Miss Nigeria, Douglas Nyekachi.
A few months later after you handed over, the coronavirus hit the country. What did you do during lockdown?
I was confined at home like everyone else. I utilised the time though to learn how to bake. It was my highlight.
What is life like away from the spotlight?
Well, the limelight is not as intense as before when I was still Miss Uganda and Miss World Africa, which is both a good and bad thing. It is a good thing in such a way that I can finally take a breather. On the other hand, it is a bad thing because I now have to work extremely hard, say when hunting for resources. In summary, I would say it is a bittersweet feeling.
Does this feeling make you miss what you had then?
Not really. Deep down, I knew that I would be reigning for a certain period of time and then hand over to another girl.
Let’s go back to the weeks after you handed over the Miss Uganda crown. What was that period like for you?
The first weeks were exciting. When I stepped away from the public eye, I realised that my reign had become bigger than what I had initially imagined. I found it interesting that even after handing over, a number of people continued to think that I was still Miss Uganda and there were even circumstances where I would go to events with Nakakande and the attention would be more on me than her. And it was for this reason that I eventually decided to take a back seat and let Nakakande shine.
Your wins undoubtedly made you famous. Do you feel that today some people are taking advantage of your fame?
Yes. Of course. It never stops. Some people know that I am connected in certain ways and they want to take advantage of this. There are even those who think that I am some kind of minister or government worker, yet, I am not. Regardless of everything, I am always willing to help people in whatever way I can, but, there are times the requests become too much.
What kind of overwhelming requests do people tend to make?
The requests vary from time to time. Some request that I connect them to higher authorities while others ask for money. I remember this one time, someone called me at about 4am. When I didn’t pick up the call, the person called again at 5am. When I eventually decided to answer the call, it was a lady crying, and she was sad after breaking up with her boyfriend. A few minutes into our conversation, she made a startling request of giving me the phone number of her boyfriend so that I convince him to take her back. In my mind, I wondered if Quinn was now a counsellor. I politely told her that I would do no such thing and ended the conversation. She, however, kept calling. I picked up the phone call and advised her to call her boyfriend and set a meeting date where they would try and sort things out.
Speaking of higher authorities, there were times during your reign when you interacted with President Museveni and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga. Are you still in touch with them?
The truth is that when you hand over a crown, life changes. The channels of communication also change. What I can say is that it may not be that easy to access them like it was in the past, but, it does not also mean that it is impossible.
Are there particular people who ask you to connect them to these people?
Yes. What these people may not know though is that currently I don’t have direct access to them despite our previous interactions. Besides, they are also busy basing on the fact that we have just come out of an election.
In 2019, you launched the Quinn Abenakyo Foundation. How is it going?
I launched my foundation on November 25, 2019 and the launch was graced by renowned personalities; President Museveni, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and, the Queen of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda, among other individuals. Briefly after launching it, I travelled to London for the Miss World finals where I handed over the Miss World Africa crown to another girl. Afterwards, I returned home. Then, boom, the following year, 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit us. So, just imagine, there I was, trying to set the ball rolling for my foundation and then corona happened. Last year was tough because of the impact of the pandemic. Everything was brought to a standstill.
How did you then manage the affairs of the foundation?
I thought of how I could help others during this time. There were stories of many young girls getting pregnant around this time and so, I thought why not turn the foundation offices into a safe space for teen mothers. So, the offices became home to some of these girls whenever they needed refuge.
Besides teen mothers, we also accommodated children between the ages of 13 and 19 who had no shelter. As we did that, the foundation continued working closely with parents and local leaders to find out what we continuously need to address in respective communities.
Is there a specific reason why you chose Bukasa suburb to house the foundation?
Well, I was targeting children and girls in mostly vulnerable communities and this suburb has a section of ghettos and slums. I wanted to focus on the daily challenges they were facing and, in the end, come up with practical ways of addressing them. When the lockdown was eased late last year, the foundation began vigorously addressing the issue of teenage pregnancies and abuse.
We continue to invite girls from surrounding communities to our offices and have different experts to teach them about reproductive health, how to defend themselves, and menstrual hygiene, including how to make sanitary towels. We also incorporate economic empowerment sessions where we teach them things such as backyard farming, baking and making liquid soap with available resources. Also, we attach them to different mentors who mostly give them career guidance.
What challenges have you encountered running the foundation?
Upon launching the foundation in 2019, a few months later, the pandemic hit hard and that put a cut on funding. In order to have most of the organisation’s activities running, we need funding. I might have all these beautiful ideas but without money, I will not reach my beneficiaries.
Regardless, the foundation has to continue running. Funding for NGOs comes from all sources, including corporate companies, government and individuals. These days, it is common to apply for funding and no one gets back to us. It has been very difficult because I know that everyone is dealing with the impact the coronavirus has brought onto the economy.
How many people are helping you run the foundation?
We are currently four individuals running the foundation. There is an administrator, programmes manager, information technology expert, and myself.
Is there anything else keeping you busy?
I have my side hustles (laughs). Sometimes I work with companies or individuals interested in using my brand to market their products. I am also doing a bit of agriculture, which I feel is the way to go for young people.
You once mentioned returning to school… how is that coming?
I would love to return to school to upgrade my studies with a Masters. However, I decided to give myself a year or two to first stabilise the foundation before eventually enrolling for a Master’s programme, perhaps, to study a Masters of Business Administration (MBA).
Have you realised any difference in your life today?
Yes. My personal growth has been enormous. I overcame shyness and can now speak to many people. I am happy that today I am a role model and influencer, something that I had never imagined before in my life.
What do you love doing for fun?
Just what any other 25-year-old does, for example, going out with friends.
And stress? How do you cope with that?
I normally give myself time. There are days I may watch a movie or visit a friend. But I believe that the best stress reliever is prayer. When I am stressed, I sometimes resort to praying or reading the Bible. Every time I do this, I feel better. But I must also add that my family is always around me, and, for this reason, there is never a window for me to get to breaking point. My family members, including parents and siblings are always a call away. They continuously listen, encourage and advise me, which helps lift some weight off my shoulders.
Do you still live with your parents?
Yes. The interesting thing is that though I am 25 years old, to them, I will always be their little girl. They continuously mentor and give me the support I need whether it is in work or personal life.
What is your typical day like nowadays?
Well, most times, I am either at the foundation offices in Bukasa or having outside meetings.
People continue speculating about your love life. Do you want to put any rumours to rest?
(Laughs) I don’t openly talk about my dating life. I feel that it is a part of me that should remain personal.
Are you still in touch with the former Miss World 2018 contestants?
Just a few of them, especially the ones from Africa, including Miss Nigeria, Miss Sierra Leone and Miss Zambia. I also chat with Vanessa Ponce De Leon, Miss World (2018) from time to time. The majority of the former contestants are now focusing on their respective personal lives and work. Another section of them are now married with families.
What do you hope to achieve five years from now?
I will be 30 by then. I hope to have started a family, ventured into a business, one I am very passionate about and more involved in Agriculture. I am also hoping that by then, my foundation will have grown, including having our own space because currently we are renting and it is not sustainable.
Your parting words….
Well, I want to start by encouraging anyone out there facing challenges that it is not the end of the world. It is just a chapter of your life. The beauty about challenges is that they help you grow as a person and you also pick incredible lessons from the experience. So my advice is that continue being optimistic and positive in your life, no matter the circumstances. And for each and everything you do, please pray. Never lean on your own understanding but rather, seek divine intervention from God. I also want to emphasise that we should continue being loving, caring and kind to one another. It is the healthy way to live.