Beyond the sashes and crowns, Veena Wijewickrema hopes to challenge people’s perceptions of beauty pageants and to encourage diversity.
A finalist for Miss Universe Australia, 19-year-old Veena says she questioned whether “brown girls” were allowed.
“I never used to see people like me or anyone like me represent Australia,” she explains. “I thought I consider I am Australian, Australia’s my home, it’s my home country, I want to go for it but I didn’t know if I could.”
However, she says her involvement in Miss Universe Australia – while initially done for herself – also provides an opportunity to empower others.
“I don’t care if it’s people of colour or people who feel like they’re experiencing adversity or they are a bit unique in some way; I want them to be empowered by it,” she says. “I want to go up there and want people to see me and be like ‘she can do it, so can I’.”
An aspiring trauma surgeon, Veena is currently in the second year of a medical science degree at University of Canberra.
“My next biggest goal is I want to be at med school by 21. After med science, my goal is to do post-graduate medicine and do trauma surgery in the Army,” she says.
“There’s nothing that scares me … I don’t see what’s another 12 years of study for me to help someone in life with their situation.”
In addition to full-time study, Veena also balances several jobs including work with the family business – GG’s Flowers – as well as being a carer for infants, kids and adults with special needs.
She says her involvement in Miss Universe Australia has made her ask herself “who am I, what do I stand for, what do I believe in and also stay humble and close to my roots”.
“It’s been really good and it’s made me change a lot and not in a bad way,” she says. “It’s made me solidify myself, making sure I know exactly who I am and making sure I don’t let anyone change me.”
As part of her participation in the pageant, Veena is fundraising for ToyBox International, a charity dedicated to supporting Australia’s sick and disadvantaged children. Donations can be made via everydayhero.com, search ‘Veena‘.
The Miss Universe Australia final is on Thursday 27 June.