Onieka Alphonso-Watson wears many hats. And later this year, she’s seeking to add a crown to them. Her calm confidence, beauty and charm say she can lift the title of Mrs United Nations 2013, when she takes to the stage in October in Miami.
Apart from being a wife and a mother, Onieka works full-time as the Public Relations Officer of the Parliament of Guyana. When and if she wins the Mrs UN pageant she intends to take on a project to assist the homeless as well as work on her platform which is forest conservation.
“I am 110% confident I’ll go to Miami and come back with that crown,” Onieka told The Scene in an interview. “I’m smart, have a lovely personality, really outspoken, and I am being trained by an excellent fashion icon – Pamela Dillon with my entire wardrobe being designed by Randy Madray and Nelsion Nurse. I am supporting local talent all the way.”
She expressed that her name Onieka is African in origin (Onika) and means warrior, so she would like to go to Miami and fight for the crown, showing what Guyana has to offer.
Onieka invites everyone to support the local delegation to the United Nations Pageants and support her in her quest for the international crown by logging on to the website and voting for Guyana.
Now 27, the Libra-born beauty hails from New Amsterdam, Berbice and considers herself the full country-girl, although she has been living in the city for a number of years.
She was inclined to the arts while at the Berbice High School but these ambitions were subdued as her parents and teachers guided her on which course of study to take – the sciences. But she has always found a way to do what she loved and so she joined the debating tem where she excelled in expression and language and actually competed in her first pageant at the school at the age of 13 against fifth formers, copping the Miss Congeniality and Best Smile awards.
Asked to describe New Amsterdam while she was growing up she said, “You know that saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ – well that was New Amsterdam.” People were very friendly and close to each other, so it wasn’t uncommon for the neighbours to be disciplining children as if they were their own. Everyone was ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ and even strangers can soon be cousins or ‘honorary siblings’. Leisure time was always a blast; climbing trees, bush cooking in the backdam, swimming in creeks and a lovely game of cricket on the streets.
After Berbice High, Onieka packed her bags and headed to the city to pursue Communication Studies at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen.
But how did she transition to the life of the sash and the crown?
“I was never really interested in pageantry as an adult although I dabbled in modelling for a few months, but I never thought I would have been a beauty queen until I was approached with the opportunity. I was intrigued,” she said. “I didn’t know they were pageants that catered for women like me. Because of this I can set an example to other married women with children: Not because you’re a mother means you’ve lost it.”
After Soyini Fraser won the Miss United Nations 2012 title, there was a spark of interest here in the previously not so well-known international crown. Onieka logged onto Facebook and ‘Liked’ the United Nations Pageants page. After she made a comment on one of the page’s posts, the international director of the pageant messaged her and invited her to apply to her local franchise, saying that she has what it takes to be a representative of her country.
She subsequently got in contact with the reigning queen here in Guyana and started the application process.
Onieka seems to have struck a balance between motherhood and these additional tasks. “It really is great to have my daughters look up at me as one of their idols; to have them look at me now as a beauty queen and role model. They are my biggest fans,” she said.
But who can an idol’s idol be? For Onieka it is Trinidadian Wendy Fitzwilliam, former Miss Universe. She considers Wendy to be one of the most beautiful women she has even seen. “I think I resemble her a bit, if I may be bold enough to say,” she expressed with a smile.
Her platform for the Mrs UN pageant is promoting forest conservation and its importance to the globe. But one of her more personal platforms is highlighting homeless people and assisting them, something that has always been dear to her.
It turns out that at the age of sixteen when her mother was dying, Onieka had nightmares and fears of being homeless. She feared that she would be left to roam the streets but fortunately she had the same loving neighbours in her community and relatives who came together and supported her and the rest of the family. She considers the pageant a platform to give a voice to people she finds quite fascinating.
“I have homeless friends, they are interesting people,” she said “We just see them there and think they’re repulsive but if you take time to actually talk to someone you will see they have a story like everyone else; you should not judge anyone. Hopefully with this title, I can form some sort of foundation and support to offer better assistance.”
As Public Relations Officer of Parliament, Onieka’s job is basically to bring Parliament to the people.
“Well my primary function is to bring Parliament relatively close to the people of Guyana. It is their Parliament. The parliamentarians are there for us; we elect them, they work for us. People generally see politicians and think they are sort of demi-gods, but it is not so. Parliament is open to the public and even has a viewing gallery during debates,” she stated. She is even mulling hosting a programme called ‘Let’s talk Parliament’ on the national media.
Onieka was married at the age of 21 and being a mother of two dictates that her social life revolves around her family, and so she tries to leave work as early as possible to be with her children and relax with them. But when she wants to get away from then, she jokes, she likes to hang out with friends or just cook (she is a wizard in the kitchen!).
She is an avid reader and enjoys spy novels. And her little penchant for drama has always had her considering joining the Theatre Guild, but life gets in the way.