Second Princess of Miss Tourism Ghana 2019, Emmanuella Awedana Apuri, early last December journeyed to the host country Vietnam to represent Ghana in the 31st edition of Miss Tourism World. Going up against many contestants from different countries, she trudged through with her intelligence, elegance, beauty, personality, impeccable collection of African-print styles, jewellery, and bank of knowledge to sell her homeland’s culture to the world. Even though she did not bring home the international title, Awedana became one of only 12 semi-finalists and consequently got crowned at the finale with the continental title of Miss Tourism World Africa.
Congratulations once again and welcome back home. Can we start off by getting to know more about you and your childhood days?
Where to begin? I am just a simple girl, a certified medical laboratory scientist at the Ghana Infectious Disease Center and a master’s student at the University of Ghana Medical School, at the department of Medical Microbiology, Korle-Bu. On a regular day, I work in the laboratory. I was born in Accra and lived my early life with my grandmother. Actually, I lived partly in the North, in Navorongo and partly in Accra. My grandmother was for some time my mother and provided everything I needed. It is quite funny I never really knew I had a mother until one time my uncle told me that my mother wanted to talk to me, and I was confused because, to me, my grandmother was my mother. But the whole experience was exciting.
Considering your line of work, tourism and by extension, pageantry is somewhat different paths. What then informed your decision to venture into them?
One thing most people tend to overlook is the fact that there is an aspect of tourism that receives little attention and that is health tourism. That is basically what I do. Health tourism is the main reason why I participated in Miss Tourism Ghana and then Miss Tourism World because I wanted to promote it to others. We need to assure our tourists that yes, we do not pray for them to get sick when they visit us, but there is the assurance that in case there is a health emergency, they can be confident that there will be someone who will take care of them. This is also part of tourism.
And what about the pageantry side of it? Is it something you have always been interested in or that came together with your passion for tourism?
I have loved modelling since childhood. I remember I used to watch America’s Next Top Model every single day from season one until season four when I stopped watching because I had to focus more on school. There are other beauty pageants all right, but I participated in Miss Tourism Ghana because as I mentioned, I am driven by the fact that health tourism needs to be promoted. It is also not just about the tourists, but an opportunity for investors to take interest in our health sector because honestly, we are trying, but there are still challenges within the sector that need to be addressed.
Now let us talk about Vietnam because, from your social media engagement, you seem to have had quite the experience with many stories to tell.
Yes, Vietnam was amazing, and the welcome was mind-blowing. We say Ghanaians are hospitable, but I think the Vietnamese have taken it to the moon and back. It was mesmerizing. Initially, we were supposed to be welcomed at the airport, but we arrived about three days late, yet we were received very well. It felt like home.
How did you relate with the other contestants from the other countries?
It was easy to get along with everyone because most of the girls were very friendly and that made it possible for us to just fit in. Of course, it was a competition and people would want to let you know that girl, I came to compete. However, sometimes when you know your focus, you do not allow certain things to bother you otherwise there will be too much pressure on you. Even though it was a competition, I believe it was also about networking and an opportunity to improve oneself. You go with the mindset of how you can better yourself and how to expose yourself to not only the organizers or organization responsible for the contest but also to other investors or people interested in tourism who would want to invest in you to promote something for them. It could be a brand or any other thing.
Most people travel to other countries or regions and get a series of cultural shocks. What was one thing that surprised you the most on this journey?
When I was informed that we were going to Vietnam, the first thing I did was to get at least some information about the place that I was going to, so Google and YouTube took care of that. Unfortunately for me, some of the results that I got were more centered on the Vietnamese War, typhoons, other natural disasters, and all that so I redirected my attention to tourism and when we finally got there, I saw how truly beautiful the place is. We went to the northern part, where their capital city, Hanoi is. It is known for temples, ancient and historic sites which they have been able to preserve so well. That is one thing I believe Ghana must emulate because in my opinion, we do not give much attention to some important historic sites. We also visited their first ever university and it is unbelievable that it was built almost a thousand years ago. They make sure they renovate and make attractive all these places. I also love how they love flowers. Another interesting thing I realized was that a lot of the Vietnamese spoke more than one foreign language in addition to their language. This made it easy for everyone over there to relate with one another because among the chaperones, we had someone who could speak French, Spanish, or Russian, among others so no one was left out.
Ghana as we know it is not without its share of problems and you have already mentioned the issue of preservation. In your experience, what other problems have you identified and how do you suggest we work towards remedying them?
One thing I loved about the Vietnamese is that they invest in Agriculture. They grow what they eat and eat what they grow. Ghana still struggles to get her own people to buy into the idea of consuming for instance, locally made rice. Go to Vietnam. It is something they do without a second thought. Out of their rice, for example, they produce wine, make cakes, biscuits, toffees, and many other things. I know the Ghana Tourism Authority under the Ministry of Tourism launched the Ghana Month campaign so we can eat, see, wear, and feel Ghana, but we still have a lot to do and that begins with us, as citizens. Another thing has to do with marketing. My short experience over there showed me that they are able to market what they have. As I said, they eat their own food, and this makes it easy for them to talk about what they have with other people. If it is their clothing, they wear them too. We have to make it our habit to cherish what we have and then find best ways to market and expose them to the outside world.
The contestants toured some of the regions and interesting places of Vietnam. What did you enjoy most on those tours?
I enjoyed our trip to one province called Son La, particularly to the glass bridge, which has made the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest glass-bottomed bridge. From it, you can see a beautiful scenery below with lots of green vegetation. The bridge also leads to a cave with an aquarium within. It is simply beautiful.
It is safe to say you will be going back soon enough considering how you speak so fondly of the place.
Definitely (laughs). I just need a visa and a ticket.
“Owe man nothing except genuine love and respect.”
Now that you are back home, what do the next few months look like for you and are there projects you look forward to embarking on?
Yes, there are three projects I plan on working on. I am going to start with a homecoming visit back to my roots to thank them for their immense support and also use that as an opportunity to promote or preach about girl child education. I know my hometown and the northern part of Ghana need attention drawn to this area and since I am their own daughterand I intend to make an example out of myself for them to look up to me. I also hope for the young girls to be informed enough about preserving themselves until they are at an age where they are responsible enough to cater for themselveswithout suffering too many consequences.
Another project I will be working on is promoting health tourism so I will be writing to various hospitals and research centers in Ghana to present those institutions, using social media as a tool, so that outsiders will know that apart from our tourist sites, we also have a health system that strives to attend to health needs. We can even boast of the fact that during the covid 19, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research together with the Ghana Infectious Disease Center for instance led in the fight against the pandemic and even received international commendation. Recognition and partnerships that the institute has with other institutes outside is another way of giving assurance to tourists and investors alike to come and possibly invest in us.
You mentioned you had three projects in mind, what is the third?
That will be a skills training program. Fortunately, I have friends who know how to make for example, shea butter, yoghurt, and others. I plan on leveraging their skills and utilizing them as moderators to help the trainees to learn these skills so that even in hardship, they will be able to fend for themselves.
From your preparations in Ghana to your journey to Vietnam and all what came in between, what are some of the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
Funding. It was not easy. At a point I even gave up because I would go to an office and assurances would be given only to be told later that approval for what I sought was not granted. At a point my director and I got very worried. I had to stressmy family and family friends and together with my director, they did everything possible to make sure the trip happened. We have been doing well in Miss Tourism World over the years, so she did not want that record to be broken because of financial issues. We did everything we could, and God did the rest.
It is a great thing that eventually you overcame this constraint and now here you are.
Yes, it is, but the thing is people may have these notions about pageants so much so that the demerits of one may affect another. The truth of the matter is, sometimes Ghanaians do not support until you go and make it, then suddenly, everybody comes closer as if they were there with you from the beginning, but I guess that is also a side of human nature that we have to live with.
Who are the three people who have inspired to do what you do and be who you are?
God, my godfather, and my mother. I became who I am because my godfather challenged me. I am the only child of my mother and the first of my father. My parents are not together, so I first grew up with my grandmother. Even though I built a relationship with her, I became more mature when I moved to Accra. Initially, I had challenges expressing my feelings and thoughts, except through writing. Speaking was difficult for me but my godfather recognizing this started pushing me to assume church positions because you know, as a leader, you cannot decide to not talk. My godfather always kept motivating me to be better. Then, my mother because she is my powerhouse and a very prayerful person who has a way of calming my anxieties and fears. Above all, God because without Him, there is nothing I can do. I am a Christian. My faith and belief are in God.
“… never give up because winners do not quit.”
What are some of your immediate plans, career-wise?
I want to complete my master’s degree. I am done with my first year and currently doing my lab work. That is for second year which begins in January, but I want to be a bit ahead so that I am not found wanting. I have my samples and everything ready. I will also write a review paper and publish it hopefully in February and graduate later in the year. Moreover, I am looking forward to applying for a PhD in either medical microbiology or infectious diseases, so basically, research. Then, I want to engage in humanitarian works as well as use traveling opportunities to explore other tourist sites and preach more about tourism through my journeys.
What are three things we do not know about you yet?
I am a very quiet person. I am very spiritual, and I love my books. (Laughs) I just said I am a quiet person and my office colleagues are laughing about that.
Well, as they say, every quiet or introverted person remains so until they find someone they can extrovert with.
Exactly. Oh, and I love dancing too. I dance a lot. I can dance in front of my mother, my mirror.
That is interesting to know. In your spare time, what do you do?
I write and read a lot of books.
Best place to visit in Ghana?
Allow me to be biased here. I don’t know why but I have a thing for the Volta Region. I love Wli Falls and Mount Afadja. I am an adventurous person so there is that.
Your favorite Ghanaian dish and drink?
Dish, I’ll say tuo zafi…on the plug. The drink will be between brukina and sobolo, but I will choose sobolo because it is easy to prepare.
Your favourite look from the Miss Tourism World contest?
That would be my national costume look, and just to deviate a little from the question, one piece of advice I would give to anyone going for an international contest is, if you are financially stable, go with a makeup artist. I had to learn how to do my makeup prior to the trip but sometimes it is hectic because for instance, you can go to a tourist site and come back at dawn, and in a couple of hours you would have to leave for another event. The stress alone would not make you get the glam that you want, so if you can afford it, get a makeup artist. That will help.
Finally, Miss Tourism Ghana, Second Princess and now, Miss Tourism World Africa, what is your message for anyone out there who will be seeing this?
I would first of all like to express my unreserved gratitude to the Miss Tourism Ghana organization, my family, family friends, colleagues from school, Noguchi, and GIDC for their immense support throughout the journey. I also want to tell everyone to believe in and challenge themselves because if you do not challenge yourself, you will never know what you are capable of. Taking risks helps unleash your potential and makes you appreciate what you can do. When you move out of your comfort zone, you are encouraged to go the extra mile and that will lead you to greater glories. Apart from that, whatever your faith is, hold firmly onto it. Also, for young kids growing up, it is important for them to take their education seriously. Pageantry is great, but you need to be educated to be able to represent yourself and your country. Above all things, never give up because winners do not quit. Finally, a quote for everyone: owe man nothing except genuine love and respect.