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Miss Galway winner reveals how her family began their life in Ireland in direct provision

Pamela Uba

Katherine Gannon

A beauty queen, medical scientist and avid charity supporter, Pamela Uba is the epitome of what a Miss Ireland should look like.

Pamela (25) was crowned Miss Galway 2020 and awarded the prestigious Best Dressed Lady award at the Galway Races in 2019.

She is also about to graduate with a master's in science from Trinity College this year.

However, Pamela had a challenging childhood. She left South Africa where she says she always felt "unsafe" at just eight years of age and entered direct provision in Ireland with her family.

"One of the first things I said to my mom on the first night staying in Ireland was I couldn't hear gunshots. Somehow I just knew, even at that young age, that I was somewhere safe," Pamela said.

"I know many wouldn't understand but coming from a place where carrying a gun around and hearing shots go off was the norm to now being in a place where it wasn't just gave me a sense of safety and security," she added.

Pamela Uba at work in the lab

Speaking about her experience in direct provision centres, Pamela said it marked an exceedingly difficult time for her and her family.

"Don't get me wrong - I am very grateful for even having a roof over my head especially during that time, but it is quite challenging living that way, especially on your mental health.

"There are certain things you could not do.

"You couldn't cook for yourself, you couldn't work and if you wanted to go to college you couldn't even afford to go as you were treated as an international student, even though you lived here most of your life," she recalled.

Pamela with her mum, who took her to Ireland when she was eight

After being mistaken as a pageant contestant when bartending at a previous Miss Galway final, Pamela set her eyes on the Galway title.

"I was working as a bartender. I went in to give the judges some water and Mary Lee, who was a model for Catwalk models and was the judge that day, thought I was a contestant.

"When she realised I wasn't, she encouraged me to give it a try one day and said that I would be good at it.

"I think ever since then I always had it in the back of my mind but never had the courage to do it until last year," Pamela said.

After winning Miss Galway Pamela decided to use her platform to highlight and give back to the direct provision community.

"Last December the Miss Ireland organisation teamed up with ICHH to deliver Santa boxes to the homeless and people living in direct provision.

"I decided to drop the boxes I gathered to the centre which I grew up in.

Pamela as a young girl.

"I remembered getting one myself as a child and it makes me so happy to be able to do the same for another child."

Pamela also told of the harmful effects she feels direct provision can have on young people's mental health and her hopes for change.

"I hope that the Government will put more effort in reducing the time people stay in these centres and have a support system in place in particular for children's mental health," she says.

Pamela is currently completing a master's in science at TCD, while working in the labs at the biochemistry department at UCHG, after graduating with a bachelor's degree in medical science four years ago.

With the completion of her masters and the third national lockdown Pamela feels that prioritising her mental health is crucial at this time.

"I think this lockdown has been especially hard as just as we were beginning to go out again and have some sort of normality it all was gone, and we had to stay home yet again for public safety reasons.

"College is quite challenging now, with everything online you can really loose the motivation for it.

"I try to do things like workouts online with my PT, video calls to family, movie nights at home and go out for walks with the dog."

Despite the lockdown, Pamela is excited for the upcoming St Patrick's Day, as this year marks the first time that she is an officially an Irish citizen.

"My journey took a long time to get here but I am so honoured to finally say that I am Irish.

"When you spend your whole life in a place and its culture it is something that stays with you. I have never felt more at home than I am when I am here.

"I can now vote in areas that may affect my future and feel like I truly belong. It really does mean the world to me to say that I am Irish," she added.

Although none of the usual celebrations can take place under Level 5 restrictions, Pamela still intends to make the most of it on March 17.

"St Patrick's Day celebrates Irish culture and that no matter how far or wide the Irish travel, there is still that spirit and that magic of the Irish that is never lost.

"It is a day to have fun, enjoy good food, good music and have the craic."

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