As a single lady and youth corps member, Mrs Ebele Ememchukwu won the Miss NYSC beauty pageant. As a married woman years after, shw contested and won United Nations Miss Tourism held in Kingston, Jamaica. In this interview with OKORIE UGURU, the Mrs. Tourism (UN) talks about her life and the implications of being a beauty queen.
What is Mrs. Tourism (UN) all about?
The United Nations pageants is one that aims at giving both men and women the opportunity to come together in a pageant setting, regardless of their background, to build relationships with other men and women who are working diligently to leave positive impacts on their communities and the world at large. The ‘Mrs’ category happens to be one of the six categories of the pageant. At the prestigious grand finalé, which took place in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 18, 2015, I clinched the tourism title, thereby emerging Mrs. Tourism United Nations World. I should equally mention here that the international leg of this competition followed my winning the Mrs. Nigeria United Nations title in May of the same year. In other words, my National title earned me the ticket to fly our beloved country’s flag on the world stage.
Many go into beauty pageantry as singles but you did as a married woman. How did you come about the idea?
You are very correct. The Mrs. category of pageantry is new in this part of the world, as opposed to the Miss category. The maiden edition of the Mrs. Category only took place last year under this pageant system. I developed interest in the competition when I heard the advertisement on the radio just as I arrived my place of work. I took down the web address and looked it up much later in the day. All I can tell you is that there was an instant connection between me and all that the pageant system represents. It represents charity, volunteerism, relationship-building, celebration of womanhood, celebration of family, service to humanity and lots more. The exclusion of swimsuit segment made it more interesting for me. That is not to say I have anything against pageant systems that include this portion.
Why did you go for the Mrs. Tourism?
Well, first of all, the Mrs category is only open to married women who live with their husbands. So, having competed under this category, I emerged Mrs. Tourism United Nations World. I equally won the keenly-contested award for the People’s Choice Ambassador for having the highest number of votes (63,900) across all categories of the competition.
What has been your experience so far as UN’s Mrs. Tourism?
Wow! I’m not even sure where to tackle this question from. I am not sure what experience to recount and which to leave out. But in simple terms, it has been an amazing journey thus far. I give God all the glory. I’m currently halfway through my two-year reign as both national and international queen, and it has been purely about charity and tourism. For charity, I have carried out several projects in schools, orphanages, treatment homes, hospitals, and so on, ranging from distribution of material items to borehole drilling projects, sharing of life experiences and delivery of inspiring lectures. Tourism has not been left out, as it has been all about contributing my own quota towards the revival of the tourism industry in Nigeria and beyond. I share the same vision with other like-minded individuals and groups who are equally looking to continue promoting tourism and giving it the positive visibility needed, particularly now that the watchword is diversification.
I have so far made my contributions both by way of physical presence and sharing of intellectual property at various fora, such as at the annual general meetings of the Nigerian Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) and the National Association Of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), which took place in Calabar, Cross River State and Ibadan, Oyo State respectively. I equally moderated the tourism and hospitality plenary session at the maiden Enugu State Investment Summit tagged Oganiru. I was a participant at the Culture and Tourism Summit organised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, which held in Abuja recently. I am also billed to attend this year’s Accra Weizo event in Ghana, which aims at promoting seamless travel and, by extension, tourism in Africa. In addition to all of these, I have met, and still meeting, lots of amazing people in the course of my reign, some of whom I would like to refer to as mentors.
Was your husband comfortable when you told him you wanted to go for a beauty contest?
Naturally, he had his reservations. But after we had the time to think it through holistically, he okayed it and provided unwavering support from that moment till now. I have no doubt it will remain that way throughout the duration of my reign. Once convinced on the cause, we often provide support for each other. So, to answer your question in clearer terms, my husband was fine with it. As a single lady during my national service, I won the Lagos State Miss NYSC title, and my husband and I were courting at the time.
What was the contest like?
The contest was fierce but beautiful. We made various appearances in different outfits – sports, haute couture, national, evening wear. We were all in competition with each other, but we didn’t lose focus of the more important reasons for participating. It wasn’t just about the crown or other material things; it was equally and, in fact, more importantly, about meeting people from various nationalities, with different backgrounds, religious beliefs and building relationships that will last way beyond the competition, and possibly forever. So, for both the national and international competitions, there was a one-week grooming period before the grand finalé. Most of the bonding happened during this time, and I’ll always be grateful to God and the pageant system for the opportunity.
How many countries have you visited as Mrs. Tourism (UN), and what was the reception like?
Upon winning both the national and international titles, I decided that the first half of my reign would be largely dominated by various acts of humanitarianism, while I devoted the second half more to tourism, while still not neglecting charity. It is in line with this that over the past four months, it has all been about tourism. The plan is to start at home, then extend my contributions outside the shores of our beautiful country. Thus far, I have contributed my bit at the various events in the eastern, southern, western and northern parts of the country. Taking it outside Nigeria now, I am scheduled to continue in this effort in Accra, Ghana in a few days. The Accra Weizo event, that is. This year’s event is looking to promote seamless travel in West Africa, and it is being put together by the organisers of the annual Akwaaba Africa Travel Market, ably championed by Mr. Ikechi Uko, publisher, ATQ Magazine. I’m excited about the progress which this is sure to bring in the area of tourism. In all of these, putting smiles on faces through various types of kindness will not take the back burner.
Let’s talk about your childhood. How was your education?
My childhood was beautiful. My primary education was in Abia State. My secondary education was at the Federal Government College, Ikot-Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State. My tertiary education was at the Abia State University, Uturu, while my master’s degree programme was at the University Of Lagos. I was just about obtaining another qualification before this came up. No regrets whatsoever on that. It’ll still happen.
How will you describe your family and how was growing up like?
Growing up, like I said, was beautiful. I grew up with my parents and four siblings. In a family of seven, I am the second of five children but the first girl. So I was taught so many things about life and responsibilities early in life. From time to time, extended family members came around on short visits. At other times, we did the visiting and holidaying in their homes. But there was never a time any relative lived permanently with us.
What was the influence of your parents while growing up?
My dad is a pharmacist while my mum is a retired permanent secretary. My mum in particular was a strict disciplinarian while we grew up. She was a no-nonsense woman, and certain values which she and my dad instilled in us are gifts we’ll forever be thankful for. My dad was the professor of English who always challenged us to learn new words, listen to the news, read newspapers, read books, and the one who was overly sensitive to bad use of English language. To a large extent, I believe that has influenced how I turned out as per how I write, speak, and my general communication skills. My colleagues at work may have a lot to say in this regard. I work as a training specialist with one of the telecommunications companies in Lagos, Nigeria, and I am told I carry out this function so effortlessly. I’d attribute that to my teacher-mother, which is where she started her career before retiring as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education. My mum is equally the reason I developed a ‘healthy’ fear of pageantry. My first real attempt at pageantry came after marriage, and it’s all good because now I am better informed, far from naive, and definitely more certain of what being a beauty queen is all about. In summary, my parents moulded us (my siblings and I) into the responsible adults and parents we now are. My marriage to my ever-supportive husband, Mr. Emeka Enemchukwu, is blessed with three children, and we are passing on the same values to them. So help us God.
Many women run away from such contests because they believe they attract unwanted attention from men, especially as married women. What has been your experience in this regard?
It is true that unwanted attention doesn’t just disappear because you have a ring on. So for me, I’m never rude to the menfolk who wish to appreciate the many wonders of God by way of say, compliments. But where and if the intentions are beyond compliments, extending across the borders, I involve the Holy Spirit (laughs) and in some cases, my husband. If this occurrence is in the world of social media, such features as ‘block’, ‘unfriend’ and ‘delete’ options come in handy, and have so far proven to be simply divine (laughter).
How do you manage to cope with your responsibilities as a wife and a beauty queen?
I would be telling lies if I say it has been easy in any way. But I can tell you it has been very interesting and truly rewarding. I would choose this path a hundred times over. Well, to answer your question, I would say it has been the grace of God and other graces which I am blessed with. I am blessed with the great skills in time management. So I am able to understand at any given time what is important and what is urgent, and allocate my time accordingly. Moreover, I have a fantastic support system of which my husband is number one. So, with all these, things just fall into place. I’m happy my marriage is happy, our children are happy, my career is happy, my crown is happy, and hopefully, we’d make tourism and Nigeria even happier.
Let’s talk about your attire. Are you more comfortable in native or Western attires?
That actually depends on the occasion. Aside being a beauty queen, I equally belong to the corporate world with experience in telecommunication spanning over 10 years. What this means is that while at the office, I’m usually clad in western outfits as the job demands. At tourism events, I try to keep it native. At traditional marriages for instance, I dress accordingly. So all in all, I’m comfortable either way. The occasion decides what I wear. That said, I also see that whatever I put on has the appropriate fit and is a true reflection of my personality.