Mavhungu Nduvheni, the current Miss Rays of Hope, is a confident and charming young 18-year-old currently in matric, who dreams of becoming a model and one day walking the African catwalk.

However, getting to the point where she felt beautiful and worthy was a long and difficult journey, being taunted by others for her dark skin and as a result, becoming suicidal.

“I had lost a lot of connection with people. I distanced myself from people, my mother never knew what happened until she saw the scars on my hands and decided to bring me to Rays of Hope, says Mavhungu, who received support and counselling through Rays of Hope’s Gender-Based Violence Counselling centre. She is also part of the weekly Teenage Girls’ Support Group.

Along with her pure excitement at having won the Miss Rays of Hope title – an accolade she says she didn’t think she would or could win – Mavhungu says she is simply grateful to have her life back and to be able to love herself unconditionally.

“Rays of Hope showed me love, encouraged me to focus on my schoolwork, to always be positive and to not care what people say about me or my skin colour,” she says tearfully. “Now I am a young strong woman who is ready to conquer anything that comes my way.”

Mavhungu hopes to one day own her own modelling agency, to live a fabulous life in Uganda, and to make enough money that she is able to keep the promise she made to buy her mother a home.

Regarding her new role, Mavhungu will pay it forward, taking all the lessons she has learned about self-love and using it to help other young girls who face similar challenges. “I am beautiful. And I am proud of my skin colour.”