Miss Ireland hopeful Pamela Uba reveals 'some people don't think I should be Miss Galway'
Her life journey has taken her from direct provision to the Miss Ireland catwalk, and medical scientist Pamela Uba now hopes to represent a more diverse island on the world stage
After what has felt like forever in the trenches of Ireland's war on Covid-19, medical scientist Pamela Uba understandably can't wait to swap her lab coat for a ball gown at the Miss Ireland final next month.
Crowned Miss Galway just three days before the country went into lockdown in March 2020, the beauty queen hasn't had much of a chance to team her tiara with anything other than a white coat as she spent the majority of her reign working at Galway University Hospital.
"I'm the longest reigning Miss Galway there ever was," jokes the 26-year-old. "It's going to be a year and a half come the final.
"I was working the whole time. We never really got a break. Being a frontline worker, there's extra tests that we had to implement because of Covid and we had to do that quite rapidly, so we were quite busy in the lab."
"I'm so excited," she adds ahead of the glitzy competition. "I have a dress being made for me by a designer, so I can't mention anything about it yet."
Eloquent, intelligent and, it goes without saying, beautiful, Pamela certainly ticks all the boxes required of a modern-day Miss Ireland, a title she says would be "a dream come true" to win.
Growing up in direct provision, though, the Trinity graduate - who moved to Ireland from South Africa with her family when she was eight - admits crowns and catwalks were the farthest thing from her mind.
"Nobody understands how direct provision affects the families that live there unless you've been there yourself," says Pamela, whose work with children's charity Variety has included providing iPads to schoolkids living in the controversial centres so they could continue learning online during lockdown.
"It's years and years of your life being at a standstill, essentially depending on somebody else. And as much as they helped us - because at the end of the day I had a roof over my head, and I appreciate that so much because without Ireland I would have been homeless - I think the system, and whether it needs to come to an end, should be looked at."
"Decisions should be made faster in everyone's cases," continues the model, who spent the decade from 2004-2014 in the so-called reception system for asylum seekers.
"I'm just fortunate that my mum raised money for me to go to college and that was the year that I got out.
"She managed to fundraise €9,000 for me to go to college - I don't know how she did it. Nobody really has that opportunity in direct provision."
Today, a proud Irish citizen, Pamela is one of a group of 30 women hoping to succeed current Miss Ireland Chelsea Farrell before going on to fly the flag at Miss World in Puerto Rico in December.
With Russian native Viktoria Baklastova, (Sligo town) and Sri Lankan beauty Midunlee Seneviratne (Wexford) also among the finalists, it's the most diverse Miss Ireland yet.
"It's great to see because I think Ireland is becoming more and more diverse," says Pamela, who has just completed a Masters in clinical chemistry.
"People living here want to see themselves represented in every shape and form. It's great to see different girls in the competition, and not only that, to see different body shapes and different styles as well.
"I'm not really skinny, I'm not really tall like the stereotypical model, so even to get into the modelling world itself was such a huge thing for me because I never thought I really belonged there.
"Doing this, and being all that I am, I guess it's helping people see that, yes, you can belong there and it's only your own mind that is stopping you."
Incredibly, Pamela only went for the long-running beauty pageant after being mistaken for a contestant by one of the judges while waitressing at a previous Miss Galway final.
Although keen not to be defined by her ethnicity, she acknowledges history could be made if she is crowned the first ever black Miss Ireland next month.
"That would be a first for sure," she smiles. "I always say just because I am African does not mean I am the spokesperson for all the Africans in the country.
"At the same time, I do understand that what I'm doing reflects on Africans as well.
"It gives them hope that they can do it as well. In that sense, I am so happy that I can be that role model for people."
"Obviously, just because of my ethnicity some people don't think I should be Miss Galway," continues Pamela.
"Even recently, some guy messaged me on Instagram to tell me to get out of the country and I think it's awful that people like that still exist.
"I try to ignore it because I know who I am and I know where I belong. Ireland has been my home for a very long time - there's nobody that can take away that from me."
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