Dani Shaw believes the key to combating AIDS in Africa is education. And she believes that education comes through technology — specifically affordable laptops for African children. “It may sound crazy, I know, but it’s possible,” said the 21-year-old Anderson University senior majoring in social work. This initiative — bringing technology to Africa — is what helped her recently capture the title of Miss AU 2007.
Miss AU 2007 is not your typical beauty pageant. Designed to raise awareness as well as funds for AU-East Africa, an outreach program that exists to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in East Africa at Anderson University, the pageant focused on inner beauty and passion for service.
Yes, it included an evening gown segment and an interview question, but the 11 contestants were charged with creating a three- to five-minute presentation on what they thought could help in the fight.
With initiatives ranging from raising awareness through film, theater and art to obtaining affordable medications by small contributions from people in the United States, the young women provided ideas for programs providing true solutions that could make an impact if launched.
“It’s the alternative to beauty pageants,” said the Rev. Kimberly S. Majeski, campus pastor and coordinator for the event. “It’s designed to redefine beauty and empower women to live lives of service and compassion."
The pageant was created by a student, Emily Wasonga, and she spoke Thursday about what inspired the idea. Hearing of a women in Africa who used her own life savings to open a clinic in the slums which is now in danger of closing, Wasonga said she knew she wanted to do something to help.
“She inspired me to think of different ways to start raising money for her clinic,” said Wasonga. “Back home, regardless of your size, everyone is beautiful. Every woman needs to wake up every morning and realize she is beautiful and share that with the world and do good.”
Thus, Miss AU 2007 was born.
To be a contestant, the young women had to be nominated and then receive sponsorship. “It was a $100 entry fee,” said Majeski. “They all found sponsorship which came from places such as campus organizations or dorms.”
The pageant consisted of several parts including an introduction, project presentation, evening gown and a questions and answer session.
The judges — which included well-know individuals such as Ben Utecht, tight-end for the Indianapolis Colts and his wife Karyn Utecht, Miss Minnesota 2005 — then chose a winner who not only received a crown and gift baskets but an all-expense paid trip to Kenya, Africa, to deliver the proceeds raised during the pageant.
The trip is what excited Shaw most about having the title. “I’ve wanted to go to Africa since I got to campus,” she said. “This is huge. This is my dream. It’s all so amazing.”
Shaw will also served as the spokeswoman for AU-East Africa and asked what she hopes to bring to the title, she did not hesitate, “I want AU students to have a personal connection with the children. I want to get students involved.”
Miss AU Contestants included:
Dani Shaw - Miss AU 2007
Corey Humphress - first runner up
Stefanie G. Asante-Mensah - second runner up
Eun bi Kim
--Lynelle Miller is a reporter for The Herald-Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. Story reprinted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.