For pageant enthusiasts, Miss Grand USA Abena Appiah, who’d later be crowned Miss Grand International 2020, was definitely a familiar face. The 27-year-old beauty, after all, had not too long ago amused Filipinos when she competed in the Miss Earth pageant.
Abena, who went by a longer version of her name then – Evelyn Abena Appiah – was Ghana’s representative to the Manila-based pageant in 2019. She first grabbed everyone’s attention when a clip of her interview with ABS-CBN went viral.
In the clip, Abena recited a line that’s been a staple in comedy routines in the country. “Ang batang malakas kumain… ay laging may gana (A child who eats well has a good appetite)!” she said then. Gana, in Filipino, means appetite. It’s pronounced the same way was Ghana.
She later flexed more of her Filipino comedy skills by ending her answer to a question about water conservation with: “Gumamit ng tabo, timba at palang-ghana!’” (Literally: Use a dipper, pail, and basin!)
According to her Miss Grand International profile, Abena is a musical therapist who works with kids with special needs. “I utilize music as a form of therapy that guides them to learn life skills,” she said. But she has much more on her plate. She’s also a flight attendant whose specialty is helping kids “overcome their fear of flying through flight simulations.”
She also works as a case manager in a mediations and arbitrations firm and, in Ghana, runs a school that helps young women develop skills for the entertainment industry. She said she plans to open a chapter in the US eventually.
“My ultimate goal is to create an organization that helps individuals feel confident after suffering severe bullying,” said Abena.
The Ghanian-American is a veteran in the international pageant scene. She represented Ghana in the Miss Universe 2014 competition and the year prior, competed at the Top Model of the World competition. In 2016, she won the Queen Beauty Universe pageant.
In a post prior to the 2016 contest, Abena opened up about the bullying and abuse she suffered, from educators and even colleagues. She said the abuse made her doubt her own capabilities.
“I lost my confidence and thought I could do nothing, little did I know that I was destined to make history. The first Ghanaian to win an international pageant putting her country on the international map. I now know that everything is possible as long as you believe and are determined to achieve it, no one can stop you. You are who you are destined to be. Know that the sky is your limit just keep pushing remember don’t give up when you fail… get back up and try again,” she said.
Abena’s confidence and experience in competing internationally was clear during the Miss Grand International 2020 finals night. Part of her speech and Q&A responses were in Thai, which likely also gave her plus points with the local crowd. She was appointed Miss Grand USA in July 2020.
She also joined X-Factor in 2012 and is a recording artist (she goes by the name Abena Akuabi), with at least 3 singles on streaming platform Spotify. Almost all of her 3 singles have to do with her advocacies – combating bullying and promoting environmental awareness.
And while she isn’t Filipina by blood, Abena clearly has a bias for the Philippines. In a March 2020 post – prior to the announcement that she’d compete in Miss Grand International – Abena posted a photo of herself with the caption “kailangan ko ng ilang kwek kwek ngayon (I need kwek kwek right now).” Kwek-kwek is a popular Filipino street food made of quail egg coated in a bright orange batter.
Abena tapped the services of a Filipino designer for several of her outfits, including her national costume, which paid homage to Black American leaders, the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as George Floyd and Eric Garner, who both died at the hands of the police.
“It takes courage to be different, to be first, to stand in the light instead of darkness. We have watched many people cry out for help before our eyes, fighting, marching, and protesting. This is the time to break the silence and raise our voice for change. We must be the change in the world we want to see by simply working together,” said Abena. – Rappler.com