- CHARITABLE. A beauty pageant gives the participants unlimited opportunities and exposure.
- Irene Nakitende chose to use this life-changing platform to create positive impact in her community, writes Gabriel Buule.
In 2016, Irene Nakitende, then 21-years old joined the Miss Uganda beauty pageant vying for the ultimate crown which went to Leah Kalanguka. Although she missed the crown, she scooped the Top Rising Woman tittle and ran with it.
Born and raised in an impoverished village of Masooli- Kasangati a Kampala suburb, Nakitende grew up witnessing the helplessness women endured in her community and vowed that she would provide solutions when she grew up.
Using any means necessary
Even though Nakitende initially thought that she would use music to meet her goals, she did not hesitate to use her tittle as Miss Uganda Rising Woman to reach out to the vulnerable in her community through different campaigns and activities.
The student of Journalism and Mass Communication at Ndejje University published a book titled The Haunted which addresses how different societies treat women and the problems they face.
The book raised around Shs8m in sales, which she donated to organize the Gulu Love campaign working hand in hand with Love Uganda Foundation.
The drive used the money to buy scholastic materials for underprivileged school going children in Gulu and enroll Miracle Busingye, an orphaned and speech impaired girl to Ntinda School for the deaf.
Talented and passionate
Besides her charitable acts, Nakitende considers herself a leader of her community and a role model for her peers. “I have always been a leader. I was a student leader throughout my secondary school life. This experience equipped me with the necessary self-confidence and leadership skills I need to help those in need,” Nakitende shares.
She observes the need for more women to stand up for the voiceless and come up with solutions for the existing problems in their communities.
“I do not shy out on issues that I care about. I do not just talk but I walk the talk. Do you know how many people told me I was wasting my time contesting for Miss Uganda? But I kept fighting. This is what I teach my peers. I use various platforms to rally people to get up and speak out for the victims of social stigma and injustice in their communities,” the beauty queen says, passionately.
She says working with communities has been so rewarding because not only does she get to help the disadvantaged people, but she has made bigger connections that have expanded her reach of influence.
“Because of my work with the disadvantaged, I was invited to the Miss Uganda North America as a mentor and international delegate in Miami Florida in 2017 and Seattle WA in 2018. I was appointed by Uganda North American Association convention as a cultural icon to spearhead the Buy a Brick campaign that was aiming at constructing the first ever fistula hospital in Soroti,” Nakitende relates.
At the pageant, Nakitende delivered the key note address on problems facing women in Uganda where millions of money was raised to benefit Fistula victims in Soroti District.
Apart from life experiences and the Miss Uganda boot camp training, Nakitende trained as a peer educator from Reach A Hand Uganda in 2015.
“My time at Reach A Hand Uganda was the best possible way to spend my vacation. I got a chance to advance my leadership and organizational skills and I learned new concepts such as social corporate responsibility and how it benefits the community,” Nakitende recounts, adding, “The skill and knowledge I got from this training enabled me to articulate the problems around me and devise means of connecting with the people and organisations that have possible solutions.”
The charitable beauty queen has since formed different campaigns and community activations to addresses issues of social concern.
“I have met with street destitute children in Kampala and neighbouring areas to understand their problems from their point of view and we discussed solutions that make sense to them. Because of my status, I am able to meet and talk to the people they cannot,” Nakitende explains.
The beauty queen started a charity organisation called Different, Better, with a purpose which focuses on empowering girls and women.
The girls are also trained to make reusable sanitary pads, life skills and also get to know about their sexual reproductive health and rights
Some of her campaigns include:
Gulu Love 2016 – home essentials fundraising drive.
Sickle Cell Awareness Day 2017 with the Holly Foundation – Luweero District – fundraising walk, motivational speeches, free sickle cell screening.
Fashionistas Meet The Needy – Bringing Ugandan celebrities and fashionistas to discuss philanthropy.
5KFORVLESY – A fundraising drive for five orphans whose parents were murdered in land wrangles.
With hard work and commitment, Nakitende was appointed ambassador for Miss Uganda North America and she worked closely with the US and French embassy on an empowerment project called Women 4 Women Awards.
At the recently concluded peer educators’ ceremony, Nakitende recieved The Rising Star Award following her selfless community contribution.