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November 9, 2007

Beauty and Her Purpose: Miss Ghana

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Lamisi Mbillah - Miss Ghana 2006 - sat on a red wicker sofa with an air of patience and fortitude. At first glance, it was hard to imagine her holding crying children while doctors extracted Guinea Worms from their distended bellies; but as soon as she smiled, a wave of compassion and subtle strength spread across her face. I could tell within minutes that there was more to this beauty queen's pretty face and demure demeanor.

Only a few years ago, Lamisi spent her days dressed in jeans, a big t-shirt and sneakers as she sauntered to class at the University of Ghana. She cared little about her appearance or anything overtly feminine. “I had short hair,” she said. “I was — what do you call it — a tomboy?” She chuckled. Lamisi was more concerned with her zoology courses and her work with turtle conservation.

For a month she traveled three hours to Nzulezu, a village built on stilts above the water. At night she would watch the clumsy turtles move slowly up the beach to lay their eggs, taking care to measure their shells and tag them. In addition to collecting data, she also helped conservationists protect freshly laid turtle eggs from predators by fencing the nests. When she was through, she would take an hour long canoe trip back to the village.

During her final year of college, while Lamisi was visiting a friend who had contracted malaria, she noticed an advertisement above a mirror in the dormitory hallway. A competition was being held that day for young women who wanted to be presenters for philanthropic causes. After interviewing for the position — though she was not convinced that she made an impression on the judges — she sat in her room reading “The Winner,” by John Grisham.

Then, phone rang. One of the judges told her that she would make a great presenter, but she thought it would be better for her to run for Miss Ghana. “I just burst out laughing. It was very rude of me, but I thought it was a practical joke,” said Lamisi.

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