Miss Ireland Pamela Uba: 'The direct provision system needs to be revamped'

'I just remember landing here, feeling that it was colder, and being aware that there was no gun violence here'
Miss Ireland Pamela Uba: 'The direct provision system needs to be revamped'

Pamela Uba was just seven years old when she moved to Ireland. Her family stayed in direct provision until she was in her first year of college. 

Pamela Uba’s Miss Ireland journey began in March 2020 when she was crowned Miss Galway, just three days before the nation's first lockdown. It wasn't a childhood dream for the GMIT graduate, rather a notion that began to brew after a chance mishap at work.

"The Miss Galway competition was taking place one night in the bar I worked at and one of the judges thought I was a contestant. I was like, 'Wow, do they actually think I'm able to do this?'," the 25-year-old says.

"I started to think about all of the other women who had been Miss Ireland and what they had achieved. I looked at Rosanna Davison, Rebecca Maguire, and Lauren McDonagh. I absolutely adore Aoife O’Sullivan from Cork as well. They're all amazing and so inspiring to me."

As the first Black woman to represent Ireland at Miss World, however, Pamela hadn't seen a Miss Ireland winner that looked like her before. It was even more of a reason to put herself forward for the title.

"I was like 'why can't I also do it?'. I’m proud to be able to be that representation and to show girls that just because you're different, it doesn't mean anything. At the end of the day we're striving for women as a whole, no matter what kind of woman you are," she says.

The moment Pamela was named Miss Ireland last Sunday.
The moment Pamela was named Miss Ireland last Sunday.

Pamela was born in South Africa and moved with her family to Ireland at the age of seven. She spent the next ten years living in direct provision with her mother and three younger siblings.

"I was very young when we moved. All I know is that my family's business went bust and it was quite hard to survive without that because we didn’t have the supports that other countries have in place. I was seven years old, my siblings were aged four, three and two, and my mum couldn't do it. She had to make the decision to move to make sure that her kids had a roof over their heads," Pamela says.

"I know some people may say that South Africa was fine at the time, but there really were only the options of being homeless or moving. I just remember landing here, feeling that it was colder, and being aware that there was no gun violence here."

Pamela settled into life in Ireland quite quickly, which she credits to her young age and her ability to speak English. Her family stayed in the direct provision system until she was in her first year of college.

"Direct provision is very challenging on families and it's a very hard system to grow up in. I would say that the system probably needs to be revamped. You can't leave people like that for years and years - 10 years is a long time," she says. "Initially we were living in a caravan. It was tough. We weren't allowed to work during that time and they didn't change that rule until a year after we got out of direct provision."

Because of this, Pamela struggled when she first started college in Galway. "When I went to college it was a new world. I came into poorer than most college students, I know college is tough on all students but I had no income whatsoever. I did a singing competition at one stage to win €200 for my rent," she says.

Pamela was crowned Miss Galway in March 2020.
Pamela was crowned Miss Galway in March 2020.

Since then, Pamela has completed a masters degree in clinical chemistry from Trinity College Dublin and she has been working in University Hospital Galway’s biochemistry department since 2019.

"Even though it is hard to think back on our experience, I think it is something that needs to be said so people are more aware. I think we get such a bad name as people from a direct provision background. Some people think we just want handouts but I'm proof that that is not the case,” she says.

“I work for everything I get. I went to college as soon as I could get in and I started working in the HSE before my results even arrived in final year. I did not want to be dependent on anyone and that's how I've always been."

Pamela has no plans to quit her job on the frontline while she holds the Miss Ireland title, though she will be travelling to Puerto Rico in November to represent Ireland in the Miss World final. It's a job that the woman who crowned her last Sunday knows she is more than able for.

“We are delighted to welcome Pamela into our Miss Ireland family. She did an incredible job representing Galway. All of the girls put in so much work this year, especially since a lot of it had to be done through Zoom,” says Miss Ireland 2018 Aoife O’Sullivan

“I think Pamela is going to do a fantastic job representing Ireland at the Miss World final.”

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