The rocky road to Miss Zambia
Vanessa Ukevwe Chinyemba exudes warmth, is funny, extremely beautiful (not surprising for the reigning Miss Zambia) and her height will leave you in awe.
Growing up, she became interested in modelling because people kept telling her to consider it as a career. However, Vanessa never saw herself as a pageant queen. In the beginning, her devoutly Christian parents were against the idea of her becoming a model. They wanted her to pursue an alternative career path and she obtained a diploma in public relations. This course was a stepping stone to study law, something she had always wanted to pursue.
In 2019, Vanessa auditioned for Miss Universe after strong prompting from a good friend. The auditions went well and she was selected to the top twenty. As she was in school at the time and the opportunity would have required her to withdraw and travel to continue with the competition, Vanessa made the tough decision to pull out from the Miss Universe competition even after being shortlisted. Her family was not aware of her having entered the competition. It troubled her greatly to let them down after they had invested in putting her through school.
In 2020, Vanessa’s friend who had been persistent the previous year called her urgently requesting her to go for auditions for Miss Zambia, on the very same day. Vanessa had no money for the audition, however, her friend committed to paying her transport and audition fee. She left the house and told her parents that she was going to attend a wedding as she feared upsetting them. She successfully pulled through the auditions and was selected to be a part of the top twenty in spite of being nervous, unprepared and worried about her family’s negative perception of modelling. The following week, Vanessa received a call that she had been selected for the top sixteen group. It was at this time that she realised how things were progressing and decided to inform her parents, who were surprisingly supportive, though sceptical.
On 25 December 2020, Vanessa was crowned Miss Zambia. Considering that this was the first pageant she had taken part in, the win really took her by surprise. No one taught her how to walk, talk and she had never even had a professional photoshoot in her life.
Vanessa has always wanted to work with victims of sexual abuse, in part because she was a victim as a child. Despite the abuse she experienced, looking up to people such as Oprah Winfrey who were abused at a young age but still managed to be successful in life is what has given her the drive to be brave and the conviction that her past does not define her. Her particular group of interest is male victims because of the stigma attached to men opening up about abuse and their traumas.
Holding the Miss Zambia title during COVID-19 has been particularly challenging as she has not always been able to visit places, facilitate programmes such as workshops and engage as one would normally. This has weighed heavily on Vanessa as she feels that she has not been able to fully execute her duties. Despite this, she has worked with the management team of Miss Zambia that has been supportive in facilitating activities and collaborations, including charity work with various vulnerable groups. In addition, Miss Zambia has taken it upon herself to donate to the community from her personal resources annually on her birthday, which falls on April 30.
Vanessa will be supporting the auditions of Miss Zambia when the next competition takes place. After she hands over her title, Vanessa plans on going back to school to upgrade her diploma in public relations by enrolling in undergraduate studies. At the time of our interview, Vanessa was looking forward to participating in Miss World 2021, taking place in Puerto Rico on 16 December 2021.
When asked what advice she would give to the young women, she says “Be as unique as a fingerprint, as everyone has a different gift to offer. Be real, do not look at what others have that you do not have. Take me as an example, there were more people experienced than me in the modelling sector. However, I won at my first attempt. Always be yourself.”