2 Oct 2023

“So much discrimination against people with disabilities” - Miracle Afele

1:02 pm on 2 October 2023
Miracle Afele poses.

Miracle Afele. Photo: Digicel Miss Samoa Pageant

Earlier this month, Miracle Afele made history when she became the first deaf person to compete in the Miss Samoa Pageant.

She ran as Miss Samoa Association of Sign Language Interpreters - an organisation that teaches sign language to deaf people and their families in Samoa.

Although she didn't win the pageant, Afele was the centre of public attention, garnering praise for being a role model for Samoa's most vulnerable.

An advocate for people with disabilities, Afele said she wanted to use the competition as a platform to promote social inclusion.

"At first, I was scared and nervous because I wasn't sure about what to expect and whether I would be accepted amongst the contestants," she said.

"It helped me become confident and my favourite experience was meeting all the different young ladies like me in the pageant.

"One of my best experiences was being able to stand in front of all the people and perform as if I am able to hear."

Miss Samoa Moemoana Schwenke. Source: Digicel Miss Samoa Pageant

Miss Samoa Moemoana Schwenke. Photo: Digicel Miss Samoa Pageant

Fellow contestant and eventual Miss Samoa winner Moemoana Schwenke said Afele was inspirational and made the 2023 Miss Samoa a truly inclusive event.

"She speaks to all of the Samoans who also live with a disability," Schwenke said.

"The main objective of the Miss Samoa platform is to drive gender and social inclusion, and I think this pageant really demonstrated what inclusion looks like."

According to Miracle Afele, discrimination against people with disabilities in Samoa is widespread. Afele said she and other students experienced bullying and exclusion at regular schools.

"While at the Inclusive Education Support Services, we were attached to one of the regular schools and there I experienced a lot of discrimination," Afele said.

"Some students without disabilities would always look down on us and made fun of our language when we signed to each other.

"We weren't included in all the areas of school as we had our own classroom away from the whole school."

Miracle Afele. Source: Digicel Miss Samoa

Miracle Afele. Photo: Digicel Miss Samoa Pageant

Afele said she also experienced bullying while participating in the Miss Samoa Pageant.

"As soon as some people found out I had entered, they made mean comments about my participation.

"They called me names and were saying I shouldn't have entered the competition as I should enter one for deaf girls or for people with disabilities."

But Afele said the praise and fan support that she has received far outweighed the negative experiences and was the fuel that motivated her to run in the pageant and to make a difference.

"I always had ideas and dreams about how to inspire others like me but never thought that this was a good place to start with," she said.

"Entering the Miss Samoa was one of the best decisions to make a difference, to show other people and other girls with disabilities that we can be included in society, especially in events such as the Miss Samoa."

Samoa Association of Sign Language Interpreters

Photo: Samoa Association of Sign Language Interpreters