Meet Neza Rachel | Africa’s Next top Model - TAP MAGAZINE
The shy girl who became a model
We asked Neza Rachel about growing up with four brothers, her rise to fame and her love for the environment. Initially published in TAP MAG Milestone 10th Issue.
Introduce yourself to the TAP Audience
My name is Rachel (Neza) Uwineza and I was born in Kampala, Uganda, and raised in Kigali, in my parents’ home country of Rwanda. I am the second-born in a family of six siblings. My parents met in Uganda in 1994, during the Genocide against the Tutsi. Like other families of refugees, they fled to neighboring East African countries before going back to Rwanda after the genocide, where I went to school from kindergarten on.
What were some of your best childhood memories?
I have good memories of growing up with four brothers. I only knew how to play boy games, like climbing and gymnastics, and I was in our school parade. I loved wearing clothes with pockets, like jumpsuits, skirts, dresses or shorts—anything with pockets, which I still like. (She laughs.)
Memories to forget?
I don’t know if I have any bad memories of those days, but I do remember that I was always at the back of lines, or on the side, because I was taller than everybody else, and it always made me feel uncomfortable. But I came to embrace it. As a kid, growing up in a spiritual family, praying all the time for everything, going to church, I didn’t like it, but now I thank God for parents who instilled in me the value of putting God first in everything that I do.
What was it like growing up in post-Genocide Rwanda?
It was difficult. The Genocide left a sad stain on our country’s history, and I remember growing up, at school and everywhere else, there were so many kids who were orphans. It was very rare to find a child with both parents.
How did you get into modeling? Why was this important for you?
Modelling wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do. I was never the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, but a lanky, tall, dark girl with curly hair. At the age of 16, I overheard my uncle say to my mom, “Watch out for this one, wait until she grows up ntawuzamukira”—meaning he thought I would be really beautiful. By the time I was finishing high school, friends and random people had already started to ask me to consider a career in modeling. The problem was that I was very shy. All it took was one catwalk down the aisle and the feedback I got thereafter for me to fall in love with modelling. I might be biased, but I think that Rwandan women are very beautiful. With support and exposure, I am sure a Rwandan woman will be crowned Miss World in the near future.
Were your parents supportive of you becoming a model?
Not at the beginning. My parents were not supportive at all! Coming home late at night from shows and shoots, they didn’t take it well. They would argue that I was exposing myself and not taking life seriously, but now they’re slowly accepting that modelling can be a career like any other. I think it was because of their religious beliefs that they first found it difficult that their daughter was out there “modelling.”
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
My professional accomplishments thus far include working with the producers of NYFW LDJ and with big fashion houses in Rwanda. I was the face of Collective Rwanda 2017, Made in Kigali, Haute Baso, SM, Rwanda clothing, House of Tayo, Kampala Fashion Week 2016 and 2017, GT Bank Fashion Week 2017 in Nigeria, Cosmetic Brands, Rwandair and Tigo Rwanda.
Why do you love this work?
I model because I love fashion and art. Modeling is the best way I have to communicate to the society that I want to inspire.
When you model, how do you feel?
Modeling is like acting. When I am on the runway, I am more confident, and I feel like I’m on top of the world. I just focus on the photographer, not the crowd—that’s the attitude. When in photo shoots, I’m always conscious about the outcome that the client expects, so I give it my all. But mostly I have fun.
I’ve heard you’re really big on conservation. Where did that come from?
I was always passionate about nature growing up. My dad always told us to switch off lights when we didn’t need them and to turn off the tap whenever it was dripping. I recently realized that he was teaching us about energy saving, just by encouraging those small, everyday actions everyone can take. I believe nature is a gift from God, everything surrounding us, including animals, so it’s important that we protect it so that future generations find it beautiful and safe. I mean, who doesn’t like to breathe fresh air and drink clean water?
Talk a bit about Rwanda and conservation.
Already, Rwanda has tremendous achievements as far as environmental policies are concerned. For example, the government of Rwanda has banned polythene bags from entering the country. Umuganda (a Rwandan word that means “coming together for a common purpose”), a cleaning program that takes place on the last weekend of every month [in which work halts so citizens can participate], contributes to the transformation of the country, with communities helping to keep the country clean. Rwanda’s capital is listed as Africa’s cleanest city.
How do you celebrate your birthdays?
I started a tradition of planting at least one tree on my birthday, just like a birthday cake, as a contribution to Mother Earth, and I’ve invited my friends and the public to join and make the world a better place for ourselves and for future generations. I'm very passionate about conservation, and I believe that together we can make a difference.
Your parting shot…
LOVE IS EVERYTHING
Style by : Pierra Ntyaombya
Make Up : Ivan Mugemanyi
Photos by : @XVXYPhoto