South African Born Frontline Worker And Refugee Makes History As The F – BOTWC

Botwc Firsts

South African Born Frontline Worker And Refugee Makes History As The First Black Miss Ireland In 70 Years

South African Born Frontline Worker And Refugee Makes History As The First Black Miss Ireland In 70 Years

She persevered and rightfully won her crown! 

A former direct provision resident and frontline worker just made history as the first Black Miss Ireland, the Irish Independent News reports. 

Pamela Uba’s family moved from South Africa to Ireland when she was just seven years old. When they arrived, they were immediately put into direct provision, and Uba stayed there for a decade. 

“It was 10 years of my life, and it’s 10 years that you’re left in a standstill, you don’t know if you’re ever going to get out of it or what life is going to be,” Uba told reporters. 

For many refugees moving to other countries, seeking asylum or what is sometimes referred to as being a “person in need of international protection,” there is an intense period of being in limbo, and just how good or bad that is depends on the country. In some places like Canada, those seeking asylum receive public assistance and are able to live and work among others while waiting to be processed as a refugee. In other places like the U.S., people receive nothing and are instead housed in detention centers. But in Ireland, according to The New Yorker,  they have a unique system called Direct Provision, a system of accommodation centers run by for-profit companies that offer room and board to those seeking international protection in Ireland. 

While it seems like a great idea in theory, in praxis the system is extremely flawed and many activists have called the system inhumane, demanding it be shut down. At one time, not only were those housed in direct provision not allowed to attend college or work specific jobs, residents are still not even allowed to cook for themselves. They’re alienated from the rest of the country, only allowed to live with other asylum seekers, and the worst part, have no idea or no control of how long it will take them to get out of those conditions. 

She confided that for many young women, because of the rules at the time being so restrictive on schooling or working, many of them begin to have kids really young and start families after secondary school. 

“I knew that that’s not what I wanted - I wanted more for my life so I really pushed to get there,” Uba said. 

With the help of her mother, she was able to attend university despite living in conditions, that could have hindered her growth.

“It was my mom. She raised money for me to get there. Whatever she could do, she did for me to get there. Even myself, I tried to get cash-in-hand jobs or babysitting, whatever it was to be able to get there,” Uba explained. 

It paid off and by the time she was halfway through her first year of college, Uba gained residency, allowing her to benefit from state grants during the rest of her academic tenure. She eventually got her master’s degree from Trinity College in clinical chemistry and began a career working at Galway University Hospital. During that time, she got interested in beauty pageants, working at a bar during a Miss Galway event and being mistaken for a contestant. 

“I was in Coyotes working and one of the judges thought I was a contestant and so she encouraged me to try it out some day, so that put it in my mind,” Uba explained. 

For six years she dreamed of becoming Miss Ireland. Eventually she entered into the Miss Galway competition and won. Her goal was to eventually enter the Miss Ireland competition shortly after but the pandemic halted everything. 

“I looked up what the pageant was and what it stood for and I thought ‘I have to do this one day when I’m able’ so I was just waiting for the moment when I was ready,” Uba said. 

During the pandemic, Uba became a frontline worker, helping to battle the virus and a cyber attack that threatened operations, holding the Miss Galway title for 18 months. 

“It was so tough, you’re dealing with the pandemic, your normal work and then dealing with a cyber attack. I found myself running results to hospital wards when everything went down just to keep the service up and make sure patients got their results, so I think I did 35,000 steps in one day,” Uba recalled. 

Eventually, the country regained some sense of normalcy and the Miss Ireland competition resumed. To the 26-year-old’s surprise, she won, making history as the first Black woman to become Miss Ireland since the contest was established in 1947. 

 

“It was a surreal experience and I’m so delighted. I couldn’t believe this actually happened. Even being Miss Galway for a year and a half, it was a long time coming, I thought the pageant would never happen. I am so happy and the outcome is amazing,” Uba said. 

She said she aims to use her Miss Ireland title to represent a more diverse Ireland. 

"Well despite this minority of people, the impossible was achieved and will continue to be achieved. 'I am PROUD! I am BLACK! and I AM IRISH! I AM MISS IRELAND,'" she wrote on her Instagram story in response to critics.

“[Pamela] put her heart and soul into her Miss Ireland journey [and] she has a very bright future ahead of her,” said Brendan Marc Scully, director of Miss Ireland. 

The medical scientist says that despite her success, it was still a rough journey and believes that the system of direct provision needs to be reformed. 

“And if that means abolishing it, so be it; it’s a system that either needs to be looked at to be done better or got rid of altogether because it’s people’s lives at the end of the day, and people can’t be treated like livestock,” Uba said. 

In December, the nurse will head to Puerto Rico, where she will represent Ireland at the 70th Miss World festival.

“I can’t even describe how excited I am to represent my country on such a huge platform. I can’t wait” she told reporters!

Congratulations Pamela! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Pamela Uba Instagram/@pamela.ashley.uba