VIP chats with Miss Ireland Pamela Uba; “I’m happy to represent a different kind of Irish – a more diverse and inclusive Irish”

Pamela Uba

Pamela Uba picks up her phone in Puerto Rico, and she sounds tired. The Galway girl had received disappointing news the evening before; the Miss World finals, in which she is representing Ireland, were postponed due to Covid cases. It was an anti-climax to a great month spent on the Caribbean island with the other contestants, who became fast friends. But as we begin to chat, the 26-year-old quickly perks up. She’s bubbly, laughs often, and her attitude is very much on the half-glass-full side of life.

She tells VIP that she learned how to deal with knockbacks thanks to her upbringing; after moving to Ireland from South Africa at the age of 8, Pamela spent ten years with her family living in Direct Provision. This was not an easy decade. It was a hard system to grown up in. She says it shaped the person she is – someone who can easily pick herself up, dust herself off, and get on with things. It made her resilient. It’s also made her a fiercely determined woman, someone who wants to work hard and succeed at everything she does; as well as balancing her job as a medical scientist with children’s charity work and modeling, she tells us that she has a children’s book coming out, and she also wants to pursue her love for singing. “Women are powerhouses,” she tells us. Well, this one certainly is, and we can’t wait to see her take over the world…

Pamela Uba

Pamela, what a nightmare that the Miss World final has been postponed – how are you feeling?
It was disappointing news, but y’know, these things happen, we’re in a pandemic. So we have to kind of just…accept it! I’ll be back within 90 days! They’re recalling us to finish the final. It’ll be nice to see everyone again, and be recharged and ready for the competition…I’ll bring it even more this time round!

The photos of you over there are bursting with colour. It looks amazing over there. Go on, make us jealous as we look out at grey skies and rain… What was Puerto Rico like?
(Laughs) Oh it’s just an amazing place, with such a rich culture. It’s total paradise. And the experience was so special – all the girls were so fun and everyone looked out for each other and became friends. It was an incredible journey and I can’t wait to go back already!

Speaking of an amazing journey: your story could be made into a movie, it’s that inspiring. You went from living in Direct Provision for ten years to representing Ireland in the Miss World contest…
Yeah, it’s almost unreal to me….I guess it really shows people that are in that situation, or any disadvantaged situation, that they can move forward and go onto bigger and better things. As long as they are resilient, determined, passionate and hardworking, they can get there. And I know sometimes it’s hard to make it on your own, but there is help out there – you just have to ask for it.

Pamela Uba

How do you reflect on that time of your life now, moving from South Africa and ending up in Direct Provision seeking asylum for so long?
It’s definitely shaped me. And I think that’s why with everything getting canceled, I’m able to keep the head up and keep going with a positive outlook. Judy Morty (CEO of Miss world) actually said something to us that stuck with me: within the good, there’s more good and within the bad, there’s still good.” That sums up how I feel. I look at life with a glass half full.

There’s a great movement to end Direct Provision. Is that something you wish to use your platform for?
I think we still need a system to help people, definitely, because there are people out there that desperately need our aid, and we should still continue to do that. I just think that there are better ways of doing it. We should aim to find that balance; a way to help people and also keep people’s dignities. I work in a nonprofit, social enterprise called Didean – I am an ambassador for them – and what they’re doing is amazing. Their model of living is own-door, self catering acommodation. You can cook for yourself. You’re integrated in society, you’re not segregated. You can continue your application, but also get help from staff to get kids into schools, or find your local supermarket… simple things. It’s a much more dignified way of living, especially for kids… One thing I remember is being embarrassed of where I lived.

What else do you want to achieve with your platform as Miss Ireland – and hopefully Miss World?!
Hopefully I’ll be involved in bettering the lives of kids, because that’s where my heart lies…that’s our future. I’m currently writing a children’s book, actually! I’m hoping it’ll be completed before the next cycle of school and I can contribute to their education in that way. The idea is to make science fun to them – not to be a drill sergeant. I can’t go into it too much, but the book will have augmented reality features and lots of cool surprises that I think the kids will love.

Pamela Uba

Wow! Do you have any more hidden talents up your sleeve? It seems like they’re never ending!
(Laughs) I love to sing, actually. I got to perform on the Six O Clock Show recently and I loved it. I’d hope to pursue that…that’s my next project!

Not only were you crowned Miss Ireland, but you found great success in your education, and got a degree in medical science. Your family must be so proud of all your achievements…
My mom is so proud. You know, she went through a lot to make sure that we got everything we deserved in life. She’s a brilliant mom, she always does her very best. There are six of us kids, and four of us have graduated college….so she’s done well!

I love how you say women are multifaceted. Women can model, and also work in science – they can do whatever they like.
Women are powerhouses. We are unbelievable in the things that we go through on a daily basis – and yet we still stand up, we stay strong and we raise our families. A lot of the time, we are the shoulder that is leaned on and we have to bear that. That is unfair to us. And the way society pressures us, stereotypes us… But I think that we are more than what society says we are. If there is no space at the table for us to raise our voice, we make our own table. That’s what I want to encourage women to do. I don’t let anyone or anything hold me back – I truly believe I can do anything I want to in this life. I hope more young girls believe in themselves like this, because we need female leaders. We need way more of that.

Speaking of empowering: you were the first black woman to ever be crowned Miss Ireland (Fionnghuala O’Reilly won Miss Universe Ireland in 2019, a different competition). What did that mean to you?
It meant a lot to me. It shouldn’t be about colour, but I’m so happy to represent a different kind of Irish. A more diverse Irish, a more inclusive Irish. To show people we have untapped talent everywhere, we just have to look around. It’s amazing to me that little girls will look up to me and see their faces reflected in mine, and it gives them hope. I’m glad to be that beacon of hope, especially in these times.

Pamela Uba

You said that you received racist messages from Internet trolls when you were crowned, which is horrendous. But you’ve also been shown unprecedented support…
The amount of messages I was sent over the last few weeks has been unreal. I haven’t even gotten to them all, there was so many of them come in! People have been unbelievable. The support has been incredible. I think this year, Ireland has had the most votes it has ever had. And that is because of the love and support of everyone in Ireland helping me out. I’m so happy about that.

You’re an amazing role model for kids. Who was yours, growing up?
My mother. That’s so cliche, but it’s true, she’s amazing. She’s went to secondary school, and that was about it. And she managed, pretty much on her own, to raise us and to look after us. She didn’t have much, but she gave everything she could. If I had just a little bit of my mom in me, I’d be proud.

Before we leave you Pamela, what’s the plan as you wait to return to Puerto Rico? Best of luck in the final, Pamela! We’re all rooting for you to win!
Thank you! My plan is just to lie on my bed and sleep (laughs) I haven’t slept in days – I have really missed my bed, and the comfort of being in my own house. I love Puerto Rico, but there’s no place like home.

Interview: Niamh Devereux
Pamela styled herself throughout wearing mostly Karen Millen and Coast
Thanks to Sean McCormack of Catwalk Model Agency
Follow Pamela’s journey on Instagram: @pamela.ashley.uba

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