As her reign draws to an end, Miss Earth Zimbabwe, Sandiswe Chikomborero Bhule, writes about her term.
I was six years old, in 1995, when Dionne Best won Miss Zimbabwe, live on television. I remember turning to my mother and telling her that I would be Miss Zimbabwe one day. Back then, I thought being a beauty queen began and ended on stage. I knew nothing about what went on behind the scene. Winning Miss Earth Zimbabwe revealed to me that there is more to beauty pageants.
By the time I reached the semi-finals, I sensed there was more to the pageant than just physical beauty. The judges interrogated us about our plans for the environment. I had expected fluffier, sugary questions – even though I knew it was a pageant with an environmental focus – a pageant has to be a pageant right?
The making of a tree-hugger
I like to think my mother and grandmother unknowingly prepared me for the moment I would enter a beauty pageant for tree-huggers. Mum made sure my brothers and I spent each school holiday in the rural areas. Gogo enthusiastically celebrated our arrival each time. I loved watching the scenery flying past the windows. On those long drives, I fell in love with nature over and over. But as time passed, I noticed fewer and fewer trees. The rivers dried up and wild animals were rare to come by. The burning desire to make people aware of their actions on the environment was born during those trips.
A little girl’s dream
Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that a beauty pageant would reignite the passion to help preserve the environment.
As a teenager, I imagined myself as many things; from Yvonne Chaka Chaka to a supermodel. At home, I would strut my catwalk for an invisible audience. But as I watched myself model in the full length mirror, I was reminded that I was not tall enough and I was not girly enough – in fact, I was a tomboy. I lost all hope of wearing a tiara on my head and waving to an adoring crowd.
Behind the scenes
We each had to run an environmental project for the six weeks leading up to the pageant. I started an environmental club at Kuwadzana One Primary School. As a secondary project, some of the kids entered the 2014 Robofest, an exhibition on how technology can save the environment. For the competition, the children built robots whose job was to collect litter. I was amazed by their creativity.
On the day of the final interview, I was really anxious. I experienced self doubt over my project. The judges seemed impressed by it – but until the final night, they gave no indication. To be honest it was a bit concerning because I had wanted that to be the day of validation of my ideas and implementation of the project. Seeing as the projects assessment contributed to the final pageant results I guess they were indeed impressed by it (nailed it!).
Winning Miss Earth
When I was crowned Miss Earth Zim, I realised just how much of a weight I had to bear. I stood on that stage with mouth wide open and eyes popping out of their sockets. For a couple of days I woke up and went to bed with only one thing on my mind, ‘THE CROWN IS HERE WITH ME!’ Like a butterfly from a worm, the tomboy had finally become a graceful beauty queen. That was mostly all that I could think of, until I had to start planning community work.
I worked with Helping Zimbabwe and Friends of The Environment and we planted trees in various locations.
Flying the flag
Miss Earth World is the third largest pageant, after Miss World and Miss Universe. My trip to the Philippines for the international competition was extremely eye-opening, I realised even more that, as a guardian of the Earth, I was so much more than I had thought I was.
Between winning Miss Friendship International 2014 and scooping the bronze medal for Best Teacher at a school trip, I saw that my responsibility was not only to Mother Earth, but to her children. It was then that I decided to fuse the work I had been doing in my day job with my role as Miss Earth. In 2013, prior to Miss Earth, I founded Footprints Community Trust, a non-profit organisation that helps give disadvantaged young Zimbabweans educational and social support for academic and professional success.
For a while, I was like a doe in the headlights. In time, the lights dimmed and I saw that there were many opportunities for charitable work and I stepped in to take some of them up.
One of my favourite projects is the Isheanesu Day Care Centre for the Disabled on which I collaborated with TaiChi, COLiNTHECATALYST and Girl Grandeur Zimbabwe. Through this project we aim to improve the quality of life for the beneficiaries of the day care centre, most of whom experience financial challenges
Passing the torch
It has been an amazing year. My reign as Miss Earth Zim has been more than I ever imagined. I have learnt a great deal from my experiences. Most of all I have learnt that being a beauty queen is not just about how beautiful one is on the outside. It is also about how much one is willing to contribute to making society a better place.
I am proud to have represented Zimbabwe in the Philippines, where I won two medals and the title of Miss Friendship International. But what I am especially proud of is becoming a guardian of the Earth. When I hand over the crown to my successor, I will hold on to my vow to Mother Earth to love her and her children and spread that love.
This crown did not only fulfil my childhood dream of becoming a beauty queen – it also made me a woman of the Earth for life. As the lyrics to the official Miss Earth song say, ‘I will save the Earth and its every glory.’
Sandiswe Chikomborero Bhule is motivated by the possibility of a Zimbabwe where people, young and old, can flourish. She sits on the Girl Grandeur board and founded Footprints Community Trust where she exercises her passion for working with young people
Connect with her on Twitter @SweBhule