The Miss Anderson University East Africa competition may be called a “pageant,” but at its core, it is a movement.
The program, held last Thursday, was created to link AU students with those in need in East Africa. This year’s competition featured four young students seeking to represent the university as an ambassador and jump-start a charitable effort of their own making.
There was strong hope among the organizers that each contestant and audience member would be inspired to take action.
“In each of us, there is a divine purpose for which we are called,” said Emily Wasonga, founder of the Miss AU-EA program.
Wasonga, who delivered her remarks at the program, emphasized that even the smallest contribution makes a difference.
“You’re just a part of the whole and what you have to give is enough,” she said.
The program featured heartfelt remarks by contestants, an interview, an evening wear presentation and gospel music. Attendees were asked to bring sheets, bandages, cotton balls, antiseptic/rubbing alcohol.
All the items were to be shipped to the Frepals Nursing Home, established by Freda and Paul Enane in Kibera in 1995.
The clinic is crowded with patients, including infants, many who have been abandoned by their mothers at birth. The clinic struggles with a lack of medical supplies and necessary funding to stay in operation.
As the university learned of the nursing home, students have helped raise money for short-term needs. They also discuss long-term solutions, which is the primary goal of the Miss AU-EA program.
Contestant Cassie Smith explained the dire need for help: “Someone tonight is going to bed hungry. They’re going to bed without hope for tomorrow.”
During the program, the Anderson University Gospel Choir took to the stage and began a performance fitting for the African-themed evening.
Singing a mixture of African and English lyrics, the red, green and yellow-clad choir members swayed and stomped while singing traditional African words. In English, the choir sang, “When he comes, I shall be like him.”
The song that followed was more upbeat, and a small, blond child bounced happily on her father’s lap in the audience, clapping with enthusiasm at the colorful array of tribal decor and music.
The contestants in the pageant filed onto the stage one by one, wearing traditional African headdresses and long robes. Their bare feet stood in the center of the stage while each of the four young women delivered passionate speeches in a call to action in Africa.
Freshman social work student Breann Patuzzi took the crown as Miss AU-EA 2008, with Angela Drury as first runner-up. Erica Tausch and Smith also competed.
Patuzzi’s idea to help change the world for the better involved linking Anderson children with those in East Africa.
Through a pen-pal program, donations drive and evening of cultural exploration, Patuzzi said, she hopes to spur a connection between children from one end of the world to the other.
“I want to plant seeds of connection, passion and understanding,” she said.
After graduating from high school, the 20-year-old spent nine months living in South Africa and says the win is confirmation that she’s meant to go back.
“Leaving Africa was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
After her big win, Patuzzi was stunned.
“I’m speechless. This is where my heart is. This is God saying, ‘This is where you need to go,’” she said.
Patuzzi will likely travel to Uganda in May as the new Miss AU-EA. Once there, she will deliver donations of supplies and money to a clinic for orphans and victims of HIV-AIDS.
—Brandi Watters is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Story republished 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.