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From war victim to beauty queen


Oct 9, 2005 (NAIROBI) — There is an African proverb that says that smooth seas do not make skilful sailors, meaning one has to go through problems in life for one to know how to deal with them in the future. It rings true for Rebecca Yom Chor who was last week crowned Miss Malaika South Sudan in Nairobi, beating other equally talented and beautiful models in the debut event of the pageant for her country.

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Rebbeca Yom

Yom, 21, will represent her war-torn country at the finals of the glamorous pageant in Benin in December.

She hopes to repeat the success of Alek Wek, the best known figure in fashion circles from the south of Africa’s largest country. Wek is currently strutting the international catwalks for top fashion houses such as Gucci, Fendi, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Chanel, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Halston.

It was her rags-to-riches story that inspired many girls from Southern Sudan to take up modelling and follow in her in footsteps. If all goes well for Yom, then Sudan is on its way to the top, fashionwise, again.

When she was declared the overall winner in the event which was organised by South Sudan Artists Association (SSAA Ambassadors of Peace) and the A-Team production company, she not only entered the history books as the first ever Miss South Sudan, but she also accomplished a personal goal.

"When I signed up for the Miss South Sudan competition, I viewed it as a daring move because I am a rather reserved person. I have always wanted to do something for my country and I figured that that platform was the way to go," she told Lifestyle.

So committed was the Sudanese government that it sent its Minister of State for International Co-operation and SPLM’s representative to Southern Africa, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, to the event.

The minister awarded all the contestants with cash prizes. The winner had an entire wardrobe and maintenance fee for the seven days she will be in Benin paid for her.

But behind the smile she kept firmly on her face during the entire event, not many could see the rough and trying journey that this 21-year-old has been through before she got to where she is.

For her, the saying victory is always possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting’ seems like a personal mantra. Life kept throwing dangers and misfortunes her way. But she somehow managed to survive and live for yet another day.

Her story runs like those of many of her fellow countrymen who ran away from her country to escape the war.

She was born in March 1984 at Yirol in South Sudan and life was pretty smooth for the family of three until the war forced them to leave home. She was only three years old when she left with her elder sister and her brother-in-law to face a dim future. Her mother and her brother remained behind.

"We had to trek to Ethiopia and since I was young, I had to be carried all the way. It was a rough journey that had its own share of problems," she recalls.

In Ethiopia, Yom, together with the other refugees, struggled to come to terms with life in their new home. They hoped that the war would come to an end so they would embark on a journey back home to a peaceful and comfortable life.

"Life was harsh but luckily for my big sister and I, her husband was a member of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement). But after a few years, the stay in Ethiopia was cut short and it was time to look for a new place to call home," says Yom.

The Mengistu government in the host country was in turmoil. Sudan was still at war. Their next best option was Kenya, but there was another problem - they had to pass through Sudan. So they trekked days on end, dodging aerial bombs and land mines. Many of them managed to make it to Kenya via Lokichoggio and settled at the Kakuma refugee camp. Once again, luck was on Yom’s side. Her uncle, Professor Issac Cuir, was working in Nairobi.

"He was a lecturer at USIU and is currently with World Vision Kenya. When he heard we were in Kenya, he asked us to come to Nairobi and live with him," she says.

After a while, her sister left Kenya for Sudan with her newborn baby to attend to her ailing mother. Yom was enrolled at Loresho Primary School before shifting to Maseno Girls.

Later, she was admitted to Limuru Girls for secondary education, which she cleared in 2003. This year, she joined the United States International University to study psychology but dropped out after her sponsors failed to pay fees.

"When I inquired, they just took me round and round and I decided to quit," says Yom.

She says she hopes to go back to school if she gets a sponsor. But until then she will continue to work as a volunteer with the Sudanese Women’s Association in Nairobi (SWAN). She serves at the organisation as a secretary.

She came to know about the Miss Malaika South Sudan pageant when the organisers of the show, Evans Maendeh and Lam Tungwar of the South Sudan Artists Association, brought the entry forms to SWAN for distribution.

"I was actually one of the people who were distributing the entry forms and I had no interest in it but people around kept pressuring me, even my foster mother. So I decided to give it a try," Yom says.

However, she never thought that she would walk away the winner. At the back of her mind, she had two girls - Angelina Akur and Gladys Ayoni - as strong contenders for the title.

As she puts it, these two had everything that the judges wanted. On the big day, the judges handed her a sweet surprise.

In December, she goes into the Miss Malaika finals in Benin with the sole aim of bringing home the coveted title.

"This does not necessarily mean that I am going into modelling. I will use my title to educate people on HIV/Aids, tackle the issue of education, especially for girls in Sudan, change the stereotypes about women and poverty," she says.

She also wants to complete her psychology studies and help her fellow Sudanese cope with the aftermath of war. After two years, she hopes to enrol for medicine, which is her dream career.

(The Nation)

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