Oh Yes: How did you feel the moment you were announced the winner?
Shireen: Firstly, I would like to give thanks to the Lord Almighty for blessing me with this opportunity and everyone who supported and believed in me throughout the entire beauty contest. On the night, I remember the host announcing my name “and Miss West Africa 2009 is...... Shireen Benjamin.” Immediately I felt my heart sink into my stomach and I was in total shock. Before I could even pull myself together the majority of the audience swarmed me on stage. My eyes were filled with tears of joy. I was so proud of myself for achieving such a wonderful title.
Oh Yes: How did you get involved in Miss West Africa?
Shireen: It was something that I had always taken an interest in and so when I had heard about it, I decided to apply. The semi-final was a process, which involved online voting. I managed to win the voting category and the rest as they say is history.
Oh Yes: What part of the contest did you enjoy most and why?
Shireen: I enjoyed the whole contest to the fullest. Overall it was an overwhelming, fantastic experience as it was my first ever beauty pageant. All three sections (swimwear, talent and evening wear) sessions of the contest were most enjoyable in so many different ways.
Oh Yes: What do you consider as the biggest issue facing beauty pageants today?
Shireen: I think the big issue for me would be the fact that there are still a number of people who think beauty pageants are just women who parade on stage in swimwear with nothing to offer. In actual fact it is more complex than that. The organisers ensured that each contestant possessed knowledge on West Africa as a whole and encouraged to be prepared to be on top of any issue that they touched on during the event. Also, I think another issue surrounding this is the assumption that you need to be extremely slim in order to enter. With this notion, many young girls may suffer from eating disorders and other medical conditions in an attempt to alter their physical appearances.
Oh Yes: As the newly crowned Miss West African Queen, how do you plan to work on this issue?
Shireen: The above notions and others which tend to make people look down on beauty pageant contestants are global, however the stigma attached to beauty pageants are dying out because more people are getting informed about the good aspects of pageants. As Miss Ghana West Africa 2009, I hope to voice my opinion on important issue and inform people about beauty pageants and the many benefits that contestants get. Such as becoming more confident, knowledgeable, improving on your poise, gait and many other things that you only achieve when get involved as opposed to the negative assumptions. Also I intend to use it as a platform to unite the young people of the sub-region after all we are all the same people divided by artificial barriers.
Oh Yes: What community organisations are you involved in?
Shireen: I am involved in the Hands to Africa Organisation. Also, I am working in partnership with the ACP (African Community Program) encouraging the black community to get tested to know their HIV/AIDS status regardless of their immigration status. I feel that it is so vital to know your status as it enables you to pass the knowledge on to another person. And in conjunction with the Miss West Africa Organisation if things go according to plan, we aim to organise an awareness and fundraising programme for the Yvette Gates Bone Marrow Campaign.
Oh Yes: What are your plans for the future?
Shireen: I have a number of plans, which I am keen to work on. I am hoping for a successful year where I will be able to carry out my Miss Ghana West Africa duties and responsibilities. I intend to promote sexual health and bring awareness about the need to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. I have attended many events that inform communities about the importance of protecting one’s self and I am delighted to announce that the Miss Ghana West Africa organisers and myself are coming up with a HIV/AIDS awareness foundation. I will be the Ambassador for the foundation. Also, in 2010 I intend to visit Sierra Leone to encourage young women to get tested. The SWAASL (Society for Women and Aids in Africa Sierra Leone) is an organastion that promotes this.
Oh Yes: Any advice for other girls who would want to enter the pageant?
Shireen: I would advise the girls to carry out an extensive research on charities, foundations and other events that are for the good of Africa. Also they should be disciplined, determined and aspire for higher heights whilst involved in a beauty pageant. Additionally, it is advisable that girls are very passionate about representing their country and lastly they should research on the pageant they intend to enter, the organisers and the past winners. I have met many pageant winners and contestants who got caught up in something they did not expect, luckily for me, this wasn’t the case, because I prepared for it. I wish all who intend to participate in pageants the best of luck.