12 February 2013

Uganda: I Use My Beauty to Fight Child Sacrifice

You cannot easily pass her by on the streets without a second glance. Tall and curvaceous with unmistakable warmth that radiates from within, she walks gracefully.

She is beautiful and prefers to use her looks to empower the youth and champion the cause against child sacrifice, which almost claimed her at the age of four.

"I do not want to be a beauty celebrity. I am here to promote awareness about the dangers of child sacrifice and also help the youth in Uganda realise their full potential," says Gladys Kyotungire, 24, Miss Uganda-UK 2012/13.

As the interviewer, it is my duty to put her at ease, but the role is swapped this time around. She makes me feel like I have known her for ages as we settle down for the interview. Without much ado, Kyotungire narrates her dramatic story which, to a great extent, has influenced her charitable calling.

Kidnapped at four

In 2012, the Miss Uganda-UK beauty contest beckoned and Kyotungire contested and won. The title cast her into the limelight, but also stirred her dark childhood memories of when she was kidnapped for three days with intent of sacrificing her in a traditional ritual.

"I looked back and realised that if God had not saved me from the hands of my captors, I would be long dead. I knew that I had to use my beauty crown to champion awareness about child sacrifice," she says.

"At the age of four, I was taken away by our family house help. My parents had no idea that she had sinister motives. One day, she took me to an unknown place, which was later revealed to belong to a Senegalese. The intention of taking me there was to sacrifice me. However, after a frantic search by my family for three days, the lady was apprehended by local council officials. She was interrogated and later I was reunited with my family," Kyotungire recalls.

Many years later, that childhood experience has become part of her message when she speaks to people.

In spite of that black spot, Kyotungire's childhood was idyllic. She says she enjoyed a special relationship with her parents and siblings.

She was born to John Tibamanya and Princess Pauline Nassolo in a family of six, one of whom passed on. She describes her family as loving and protective.

"What amazes me to this date is that my parents bore no grudge against my captor. They emphasised to me that hatred and bitterness robs you of your beautiful future. However, that incident changed my parents' attitude towards house helps. From that time, they resolved to raise their children without the help of maids," she says.

Despite winning the Miss Uganda-UK beauty pageant, something deep was still overriding her conscious. Throughout her life, she has always been vocal in advancing her faith, particularly in areas where God saved her life, especially from child sacrifice. When she was crowned, she thought she found the right platform to speak out against the barbaric practice.

"People will eventually forget crowned beauties and great victories. But when you are able to touch and advance the cause of others for Christ's sake, that gesture will follow you throughout your life and beyond.

"God has given me this platform as a beauty queen not to live like a celebrity, but to use it to highlight the dangers of child sacrifice and build awareness among the youth," she says.

In doing this, Kyotungire challenges young people to excel beyond their respective fields. "They need to do something to advance a humanitarian cause," she says.

No more child sacrifice

Her message is clear: "Child sacrifice has no political affiliation, is not bound by tribal and religious sentiments, it affects all of us. Sadly, however, the culprits of this evil have not been handled in the way they deserve. I am here to blow the trumpet and call on the public and authorities to do something about this evil," Kyotungire says.

When she came to Uganda early this year, she engaged in speaking at churches and youth conventions. Her simple message has been: "Let us unite against child sacrifice."

Kyotungire says she derives joy in talking to young people, who seem to be at crossroads with no guidance on how to move forward.

"I like inspiring young people" she says.

Kyotungire points out that at the end of it all, people will forget personal victories and accomplishments, but when one impacts people's lives for a good cause, that stays with them through their lifetime, it cannot be forgotten. She believes that the youth can make a positive change if empowered.

"Instead of the youth championing riots and waiting for hand-outs from the Government, they should channel their efforts towards empowering themselves. This will make their future bright," she says.

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