FEATURE 1/3: The Reality of Life Behind These Drought Breakers

Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia that is also part of the ASEAN countries together with the Philippines. The growing fame of the Vietnames beauties have started to arise since the triumph of their representative in Miss Earth 2018. The country has participated in Miss Universe last 2008 which they were also the host delegate of the pageant on the same year. From then on, Vietnam has been sending equally beautiful ladies to represent the nation but they have always failed to penetrate in the Top 15.

Miss Universe Top 5 Finalist from Vietnam, H’Hen Niê during the Question and Answer Portion
10 years later, on December 17, 2018, Vietnam’s official candidate, H’Hen Niê was able to reach the Top 5 which was the highest placement being reached by a Vietnamese woman. It took a decade for the country to have reached the Top 5 despite sending beautiful girls and can compete to the beauties from other continents. Some pageant fans claim that one reason that might cause their failure is the sash factor. Vietnam was not known to be powerhouse in the pageant scene.
Early Life and Education
H’Hen Niê, Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 was the girl who brought honor to the Vietnamese people when she was lucky enough to have made it to the Top 5 of the Miss Universe 2018. H’Hen decided to work on a coffee farm at an early age in order to assist her family’s living. As part of the Rade people’s matrilineal customs, Rade women are expected to have their own family at a young age. However, H’Hen refused to follow this tradition and decided to continue her studying at her own expense.
After graduating from high school, H’Hen studied a year at Nha Trang National Ethnic Community College before moving to Ho Chi Minh City to pursue the Business Finance program at the College of Foreign Economic Relations. She worked as a domestic helper for a year to pay the bills while she was in college. When H’Hen was doing her internship at a bank, she started receiving support to become a model. In 2014, shortly after graduating from college, she was discovered by the Vietnamese designer Đỗ Mạnh Cường at the start of her modelling career. As she gained interest in the industry and auditioned for season 6 of the Vietnam’s Next Top Model in 2015 where she became a finalist. 
Miss Universe Vietnam 2017
She entered Miss Universe Vietnam in 2017. During her time at the pageant, she was recognized because of her short hair and tanned skin, which is a contrast to Vietnamese beauty standard. In the finale, H’Hen Niê went on to win the competition, beating out first runner-up Hoàng Thùy and second runner-up Mâu Thị Thanh Thủy. Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza was a judge at the finale.
H’Hen Niê after being crowned as Miss Universe Vietnam 2017
She is currently the first and only Miss Universe Vietnam titleholder to be of an ethnic minority as she was known to be part of the Rade people. She revealed in an interview that she had almost paid off all of her family’s debts because of the new opportunities opened for her after she won the competition. H’Hen believes education is a key to break out of poverty aftee understanding her roots and past struggles. While she initially committed to donate 70% of her prize, she eventually listened to her mother’s advice and gave away all of her cash prize worth of $10,000 to providing scholarships to students in her old schools after the competition. She hoped her story could inspire young people to overcome their difficulties and continue to pursue education. Under her Miss Universe Vietnam reign, H’Hen rallies for support for the unfortunate, the elderly as well as HIV/AIDS victims. She became a global ambassador for Room to Read in 2018, a non-profit organization focusing on providing resources for girls’ education and literacy programs. As an ambassador, she is fundraising to build a new library in Lam Dong and provide scholarships to girls in Asia and Africa so that they could complete secondary education and develop key life skills.
Watch out for the second of the three-article story about the lives and the journey of Vietnam and Philippines’ drought breakers.

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