‘Being Beauty Queen Has Offered Me Bigger Platform.’

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Winner of the Miss Imo USA 2014-2015 Cassandra Chidera Adaeze Iwule recounts her experiences wearing the crown that has offered her a bigger platform to actualise her childhood dream of offering a helping hand to the less privileged. She spoke with NDUKA NWOSU

The Redeemed Christian Church of God International Chapel at Queens New York can boast of being a parent church to many others in the jurisdiction. It can beat its chest as well for producing the first beauty pageant representing Imo State from the same jurisdiction. This Sunday morning one of its beautiful daughters Cassandra Chidera Adaeze Iwule was on the pulpit giving her testimony and thanksgiving, not for winning the beauty pageant, Miss Imo US Nigeria, which she has been celebrating but to offer thanks for God’s faithfulness for journey mercies and a successful trip to Nigeria where she went to work for her NGO, the Dera Unity Cultural Foundation.

She added matter of fact: “My name is Cassandra Chidera Adaeze Iwule. I am 20 years old. I was born September 15 1995.” I started my NGO, Dera Unity and Cultural Foundation at the age of 18.The idea is to assist orphans and in so doing be a voice for the voiceless. I want to be the voice for the voiceless, the less privileged, orphans. The focus is on youth empowerment, provision of basic needs like clothes. In the future we hope to extend this to the establishment of small scale businesses.” Adaeze is open sharing her emotions about her American dream, which has blossomed these past six years. “My American dream,” she confessed, “is a course for joy as it keeps unfolding like the rose bud by the day. I am satisfied with the unfolding expectations of this dream. I finally put my NGO on course here. America gave me a better platform to study.”

· Why was she offering thanksgiving? Adaeze left her comfortable nest in the Queens New York suburb and boarded a flight to Owerri from Lagos but along the way it turned into a nightmare but for God’s journey mercies that salvaged what could have been a fatal crash. Adaeze has come a long way as a girl. Starting her foundation at 18, the age of impressionism, she encountered many an obstacle but reminded herself every attempt at a higher goal comes with its tests and trials. She did not allow the mid-air nightmare to frighten her out of her passion to identify with the less privileged.

When a seemingly inevitable challenge stands between her and her dream, her childhood experience comes to the fore as one who cares and has the heart of a Mary Slessor a Mother Teresa, or a typical 18th century missionary willing to show kindness and experience a little self-deprivation for the sake of others. At her Iba residence, Adaeze encountered a single mother who has just been rendered homeless and with the help of her parents was able to provide the woman shelter and made meals available to them until they were ready to stand on their feet once more. That experience that occurred when she was still in her primary school summarises the help ministry of Miss Imo USA, a help ministry that is anchored on sold religious upbringing.

On the inspiration that drives her project Adaeze added: “I am a youth. I know how it feels for anyone to survive without someone to lean on. I feel so sad when I see young people waste their lives, practicing prostitution, experimenting and doing drugs. I want to be in the league of those that are there for such people, to help them understand they can still do something better with their lives, that there are lots of diseases and risks out there and by focusing on Jesus, things will get better for them.”

Adaeze does not hesitate to let you know she has in her unfolding young world seen so much misery experienced by friends who fell off the wagon for the wrong reasons. “I know a friend who went into prostitution and today her life has become miserable and disease laden. I share in her pains because she comes from a home where she was abused and nobody cared for her. She moved into the streets hoping it could be better but that was how she ended her life. I am not here to judge but to help such people refocus their lives and get out of that situation; I want to let them understand that somebody out there cares for them and is willing to share their pains.”

So when her friends laughed at her initial efforts at formalising her desire to reach out to those in need, she was unrelenting becoming more aggressive and determined to carry it on to the end. Success smiled at her eventually. “My argument has been if you don’t do it now that age is on your side, when do you hope to get it done? Always follow your dream. Don’t give up. The beginning of every project is not very smooth. I had my tough moments walking the ropes and I still do even in trying to get things done but you don’t retreat because this is a mission that calls for delivery, for accomplishment and this is when the moment of joy arrives.”

What influence does her Christian faith have on her life? “Honestly without the backing of my Christian life, I would not be here because with every new level of achievement comes a new challenge but with all the tests and trials, one’s knowledge of God and the fact that one has been grounded in the Christian faith, reminds you the battles fought are not physical but spiritual.”

Coming to the beauty pageant, her designer disappointed her and she fell back on her old over-sized wear which were taken to a dress maker for the relevant adjustments. That sounds like the stone the builders rejected. The dress that was rejected as a gift turned out to be the one the judges fell in love with at the Radisson Hotel at the JFK Airport August 2014 at Queens New York. All hail the new queen-Miss Imo 2014-2015!

Recalling the experience, Adaeze added: “The reception was above average and beyond what we expected. My parents were very supportive. My siblings and friends were all there for me and I am very grateful I was crowned Miss Imo USA 2014-15 although my reign is over. It was awesome and it has given me the platform to carry on my NGO activities to a much higher pedestal and visibility. It was keenly contested pageant with 20 participants under the auspices of the Imo State Congress of America (ISCA). As a queen I was involved in many outreach activities, doing humanitarian work and kept my foundation on hold.”

Was there a monetary value attached to the victory? Adaeze answered in the affirmative but stressed she did not set out to wear the crown because of material returns. For her wearing the crown has provided her a stronger platform to attend to the needs of the less privileged. She was in Imo State in December 2014 for her charity work. She was a volunteer at the Imo Foundation where she attended to the needs of some of the patients. “I was glad I did because working with older people gives me joy and I hope to go back to the Foundation for the Elderly to offer my assistance.” May 29 during the second inauguration of the Imo State governor, Miss Imo USA was in Owerri to deliver her crown to the First Lady Mrs. Nneoma Okorocha pledging to work with her in making deliverables available to schools, SOS villages and such places where her NGO would be helpful. She later visited the Owerri City School to address the kids and do some charity work. Adaeze who had audience with her state governor posted on her Facebook account: “I remember when I told a friend that someday I will love to pay a courtesy visit to the Governor of my state, he laughed and laughed at me and said “Who the hell do you think you are? Do you think a Governor can see someone like you? Are you a senator’s child? Don’t waste your time!” Well no man is God. To wrap it up with a hand shake from his Excellency Governor Owelle Rochas. “

Back in the US, the beauty queen has graduated from Queensborough where she earned an Associate Degree in Health Science and expectedly continues with her studies at the degree level preferably at her neighbourhood York College or an equally prestigious American university.

She is asked to compare her experiences back home and in New York. “I have been in the USA for five years now. While in Nigeria I was living in Lagos around the Iba Estate. My father was the first to sojourn into the US and later the rest of the family relocated to the US. I passed through three colleges including Pentecost and Prme Touch after my primary exposure at Learning Field.

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· “My American experience has been one of joy on a comparative note. Here facilities are easily accessible and make learning a fun. Power failure is unheard of and everywhere is lit while the technology is highly advanced; you have all that you need to move forward. Nigeria on the other hand has grounded me in my culture, good manners and how to be a good cook. The culture back home does not compromise discipline unlike here. An exposure to both cultures has made me a better human being.”

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· Her parents, she admitted, are wonderful. “Without them I will not be here today. When I started the NGO I was not having anything. My dad Ben and mum Mercy came to my support. We have a great home my two sisters are twins and we have two boys. How about contesting in other pageants? “Yes I am thinking in that direction and maybe after two years of completing my degree programme, I will think of other pageants including the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, Miss World and Miss Universe as well as Miss Nigeria USA pageants.

The proud father Ben Iwule summarises it all: “One day when the day follows the night my daughter hopes to storm the United Nations to address the urgent need of the less privileged in the society and their numerous plights.”

Her message to her fellow youths: “Don’t give up on your dream. Your most challenging task is to turn your dream or vision to reality.”