Diamond Secondary School teacher Jennifer Lall-Shiwbalak took the Miss Guyana Renaissance 2017 title besting 11 other contestants in what has been described as a stiff contest, last month at the National Cultural Centre.
“I feel accomplished, elated and satisfied that my hard work has paid off,” said a beaming Jennifer during an interview with The Scene even as she revealed that she almost dropped out of the pageant after the devastating loss of her beloved father.
Her father, the new queen said, would have been overjoyed to see her win the crown, especially since her participation was his idea. She recalled that she had participated in the Miss Guyana Music Fantasia Phagwah pageant in 2002, one of eight pageants she has contested and one of the four in which she was adjudged queen. The following year, her father saw an advertisement for the Miss Renaissance pageant and encouraged her to enter. However, at the time, Jennifer did not meet the required age of 30 and so put the idea of entering behind her.
Last year, while she was preparing to graduate from the University of Guyana, the pageant was brought to her attention again, this time by her then lecturer and a finalist at the Miss Guyana Renaissance pageant some years ago, Wanita Crandon. Wanita wasted no time and before Jennifer knew what was happening, she was being contacted by the pageant’s franchise holder, Negla Brandis.
“I chose to enter the pageant because I want to be a role model on women empowerment… being a part of this pageant I was able to also relive my pageantry days,” the woman reminisced.
As mentioned earlier, Jennifer has participated in eight pageants to date; in each, she was a finalist and she secured the crown four times, including the most recent competition.
Jennifer’s journey throughout the preparation for the pageant came as no extra work as she had years of practice. “Growing up I was always onstage doing dramatic poetry, dancing and chairing programmes so that helped to build my confidence level,” she shared with The Scene.
She is also inspired by two people who have played pivotal roles in her becoming the woman she is today. In terms of fashion she admires her pastor, Ruesther Parsram of Bethel Pentecostal Ministries for the ladylike way she dresses. When it comes to the traits of bold, courageous and confident she applauds her former teacher Haimwattie Ghir-Somar, who although she was not present for the pageant as she lives overseas, when she saw a Facebook update, happily screamed when she saw Jennifer had won.
In 1993 Haimwattie, Jennifer’s teacher at the time, encouraged her to enter the Miss Covent Garden Secondary Diwali pageant and she was crowned queen. Pageantry has since become a fascination and she would often find herself glued to the television watching pageants; this continues today. Her two favourite categories are the evening gown and the intelligence. The new queen loves the gorgeous gowns but often finds she has too many favourites because they are all so beautiful. However, once they are chosen and they have answered their questions she finds it easier to figure out who would become queen. She also observed that although answering correctly is what one expects from a queen, so does answering confidently; she applied the same tactic when answering her question which was not so hard, as she is a teacher after all.
When Jennifer was asked about the experience she gained in the Miss Renaissance pageant she said: “I was able to connect to a bevy of gorgeous women, learn about their work ethic… I was better able to organise my time and schedule as well; I lost some weight.”
And while she admits that all of the participants were worthy competitors and could have easily walked away with the crown Jennifer believes the only person she had to worry about was the woman in the mirror. She continued that in the end when the questions were asked, she tried to answer to the best of her ability and did not wait to hear the responses from the other contestants but then it all came down to herself and first runner-up Viola Jillian Moore and though she tried to remain confident, there was some uncertainty, as she knew how strong a competitor Viola was.
“One can’t see oneself when [one is] the picture in the frame,” Jennifer said, adding that she knew how she viewed herself might not be how she was viewed by others yet she remained optimistic. When the first runner-up was announced and she realized she was queen she was surprised and ecstatic.
The pageant comprised five categories: introduction, cultural/talent, corporate wear, evening wear and intelligence which each woman took by storm segment after segment.
The introduction segment saw each contestant introduce herself outfitted in security services’ attire. And while each contestant did beautiful talent pieces whether in song, dance, poetry or drama, most of which dealt with social issues, Jennifer’s was different, her piece was more of a cultural presentation. Her piece opened with her arriving in Guyana on the Whitby; it showed the story of the Indians arriving and settling in Guyana through dance. The presentation was titled ‘Preservation of Tradition, Celebration of Culture’.
The corporate wear segment saw her in a green outfit while the evening wear segment took her from the professional looking suit to a flowing black gown which she elegantly flaunted before the audience and judges. Passing her hand down the lengths of her arms and over her bodice, Jennifer showed off the dress’s style but in doing this she revealed shimmering colours of green that changed to turquoise, pink and blue when the light hit it. The exquisite gown as well as her other outfits were designed by Mwanza Glen of Wanza Designs; he is known for his striking Afrocentric pieces.
The pageant this year focused on senior citizens. Jennifer specifically emphasized on the legal issues senior citizens face such inadequate health care, persons being robbed of their National Insurance Scheme pensions and persons in need of help as it relates to making their wills. Currently, she is busy with school preparations but has already on her agenda to work along with the National Democratic Council (NDC) in her neighbourhood.
“I plan to work along with the NDC in my neighboourhood to establish an elderly care facility where senior citizens can meet and talk and be pampered, have their hair washed and their nails cut, play games etcetera. We can have fund-raising ventures to provide necessities for the facility. I’d also invite the business community to get involved especially at Christmas time where they can be gifted with hampers and other goodies,” she said.
Jennifer extended thanks to all those who supported her: her family, her colleagues, her students and their parents.
The mother of two still plans on participating in other pageants if the opportunity arises. She hopes to someday compete in the Mother and Daughter Pageant.
To date Jennifer has competed in the Miss Covent Garden Secondary Diwali Pageant 1993 (Queen), Miss East Bank Sari Pageant 1994 (1st runner-up), Miss East Bank Sari Pageant 1995 (1st runner-up) Miss Guyana Phagwah 1999 (Queen), Miss Queen of Lights 2000 (3rd runner-up), Miss Bartica Sari Contest 2001 (Queen), Miss Guyana Music Fantasia Phagwah Pageant 2002 (Queen) and now Ms. Guyana Renaissance 2017 (Queen).
The Miss Guyana Renaissance is designed specifically for women aged 30 and over. The next pageant will be in 2019.