H’Hen Nie has made the history for Vietnam as she became the first to enter Miss Universe 2018 top 5. She then made headlines both locally and internationally.

Manila Bulletin hailed her as “being beautiful and intelligent” and “has a heart of gold”. Philstar, meanwhile, reported that H’Hen Nie captured the hearts of Filipinos with her “Cinderella story”. The mothership website said “Miss Vietnam might be the best story in this year’s Miss Universe pageant” while CNN Philippines described Miss Universe Vietnam as having a “fierce look, empowering story”.

So what makes H’Hen Nie more than just a beauty queen?

H’Hen captured the heart of local and international audience not only for her “fierce look” but also for her confidence, authenticity and compassion.

Just few days after she returned to Vietnam from Thailand, where Miss Universe 2018 was held, H’Hen, in casual jeans, T-shirt and sneakers, traveled to the houses of the elderly in her tribal village in bumpy and muddy roads to deliver gifts.

She also donated the cash prize of 1 billion dong (US$43,000) earned from sponsors and her managing company after the Miss Universe competition to community activities.

She wants to “keep her promise with her beloved village to provide scholarships for poor students and complete Room to Read campaign to build more friendly library and support female students all over the world”.

When being asked about this charitable act, H’Hen has a simple explanation.

“My Mom said that in case I didn’t have to earn it hard, I should give this money to others. It was wonderful things I’ve learned from my Mom,” she said in an interview with vnexpress.

H’Hen is not quite right about this though. To make it to Miss Universe 2018, it is an empowering journey of H’Hen that will make many moved and inspired.

Humble background

H’Hen Nie was born in a poor family with five other siblings. They live in a poor village in Đak Lak province and belong to Ede ethnic group which accounts for only 5 percent of Vietnam’s population.

Girls in her village are encouraged to get married at as early as 14. So did H’Hen when she was at that age.

As per tradition, her mother told her to find a husband when she was only 12. It is customary that the family would give their daughter part of their property. But all her family got at the time was an 1ha coffee garden. Meanwhile, H’Hen has two other sisters, which means the coffee garden should be divided to three.

H’Hen said in a recent interview with the online Vietnamese newspaper cafebiz “But then I thought what would be next after getting married? What would we do to earn a living? So instead of finding a husband, I chose to go to the city to study.”

She defied the local custom and moved to HCM City to pursue her dream.

She then studied Business Finance Major at the College of Foreign Economic Relations in Ho Chi Minh City, South of Vietnam.

She tried her hands in several jobs to cover her tuition and help pay for her life in city – from tutoring, delivering leaflets to working part time as a domestic helper.

In 2014, she started working as a model. One year later, she competed in Vietnam’s Next Top Model and finished in top 9.

In early 2018, she was crowned Miss Universe Vietnam, becoming the first person from an ethnic minority group to win the title in Vietnam.

If H’Hen had followed her mother’s words, she wouldn’t have been crowned Miss Universe Vietnam and entered top 5 of Miss Universe 2018.

“Growing up as an ethnic minority in Vietnam, I have seen firsthand that education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty. I want children everywhere to flourish, dream big and have the resilience to overcome obstacles,” she wrote on her Instagram page.

She might be the only contestant in the history of Miss Universe Vietnam who could afford only one pair of high heels for the entire competition. But she always keeps an optimistic perspective. Or being optimistic and cheerful is her nature itself.

“We might be poor compared to people in cities. But when I was small, living like that, I never had even the slightest feeling that we were poor. I was never upset about that. When we didn’t have food, I went to the jungle to pick up some vegetables,” said H’Hen.

A local Vietnamese newspaper described H’Hen as “the wildest, the poorest and the most crazy beauty queen in the history of Vietnamese pageant”.

Unlike other celebrities who crazily buys luxurious clothes, high heels or extravagant accessories, all she bought for herself this year include five dresses, a bike and a watch. She loves street food and prefers bicycle as a means of daily transport.

She used her money to settle down family’s debt and helped her uncle to build a new house.

She also has many plans to improve her hometown – building a communal house built with traditional materials to preserve local culture and writing of Ede people, where kids can come to play and learn. She also wished to bring clean water to her village.

Let’s hope the best will come to this beauty queen in the upcoming years so that she can realize her meaningful projects for the community.