H'Hen Nie: the most beautiful girl of the world who lives next door

(No.2, Vol.9,Apr-May 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

H”Hen Nie at Coffee Festival, Buon Ma Thuot, 2019

H’Hen Nie at home. Buon Ma Thuot Province. Vietnam. 2019

H’Hen Nie with kids in her home village

Searching for the water sources

An elder is sharing the needs and obstacles with H’ Hen Nie at her home village.

H’Hen Nie at home. Buon Ma Thuot Province. Vietnam. 2019

She was Miss Vietnam  2017, a top 5 finalist in the Miss Universe 2018 contest, and Missology Timeless Beauty 2018. That should be enough to describe the head-spinning success of this glamorous Ede girl in global beauty pageants. However, none of that changed her mind a bit. H’Hen Nie just wants the world to regard her as a daughter of the highlands, no more and no less.
Hello Hen, congrats on having excellently accomplished your Ambassadorial duties at the Buon Ma Thuot Coffee Festival 2019. How do you feel?
The Coffee Festival didn’t promote just coffee. More signigicantly, it promoted Dak Lak Province and called for investment, etc. The festival must have been inspiring, so that every coffee grower thinks about quality organic coffee, about having his or her own brand name. The positive thing is that now we have an environment for self-development, and the young people dare set a goal of doing business.
I am truly proud of having been Ambassador for many festivities. It was an eye- opening experience. As a child, every time I had a chance to come down to the six corners (Ban Me Thuot downtown - interviewer) I couldn’t help but feel bewildered, finding everything so overwhelmingly beautiful. And now I parade with people there to promote coffee and tourism for our province. That made me so happy.
Everybody in the province is your fan and wants to selfie with you. How does it feel?
Well that’s what fans do. I think it a bit clumsy. I’d rather someone else take my picture for me while I relax and make a good pose. I’d prefer to make it easy, and go slowly so that everybody has time to enjoy and look good in the pictures taken. But people rush too much. They don’t even hold the cellphone properly, and some even make grimaces, and the photos taken are generally unclear. My face sometimes is not captured entirely. The guards are really having a hard time restraining the crowd. Coming home and being so warmly welcome is great, but I would like to have more time to really talk to people.
At the moment, besides the Coffee Festival do you have time for any other community projects?
Women, children and education are the areas I am interested in most. Right now I am Ambassador of the Vietnam Women’s Association in the “Year of Safety for Women and Children 2019” program. It gives me a chance to meet extraordinary women. They all consider me as a little sister in the family and share with me precious knowledge about work and life. Through the program, I learn about so many issues women face such as breast cancer, domestic violence, and being trafficked to other countries etc.
I am currently also Ambassador for Room-to-Read program, which builds libraries for primary schools, remakes and decorates classrooms with children friendly wall paintings and pledges to raise 22,000 USD. I am using my personal channels for the fundraising work. I also used to sell books at the book street Nguyen Van Binh and made a lot of money. The pinnacle was when I came back from the Miss Universe pageant and put the fund’s link on my Instagram page. The money collected has greatly exceeded the originally set amount.
There are some problems though. The fund page is a bit difficult for Vietnamese people to use because it is in English and page users must use Master Card to make contributions.
Coming to school and meeting sunburned kids dressed in rags, I feel so much pity for them. I think they need better food and clothes, but libraries are also needed all the same. They help kids learn how to think. The library Room to Read and I established in Lam Dong was a big success. It is mostly used by the kids of the K’Ho minority. They love to come to the library to see illustrations and read, sometimes by themselves, sometimes under guidance of a lady librarian.
Apart from that, I am also collaborating with the Vu A Zinh scholarship fund of Vice-President Truong My Hoa, which sponsors students from high school to university graduation. The scholarship recepients show great determination to achieve.
Coming back from the 2018 Miss Universe pageant, I have more ideas for community work and get much more collaboration from businesses. On the other hand, I also see that the work I do has not utilized all the potential. The current project needs to reach greater depth to bring more essential changes to the life of women and children.
Your native land is beautiful, scenic and poetic. What can you say about the people there?
The people in my native land are very fervent. Any family has a wedding or a funeral, they would all abandon everything to come and help. My mom would give what she could to a sick person or someone in need, some rice or household utensils, etc. Our house even before I became beauty queen has always been full of joy. People come to share stories, comfortably as at home.
Every time coming home, I always spend as much time with the community as possible. Most often I bring flowers to the graveyard to visit my deceased relatives. I think that is the way I can express my feelings to those who have passed away, although it’s not what my family and village people usually do.
Ede society is matriarchal. So who has inspired you to pursue this path, so to speak, that led to today’s success?
My family used to be poor. My mother gave birth in the morning and went to work the fields that afternoon. She is the symbol of a strong and thrifty woman. People didn’t have the notion of reproductive health in those days. Now she has quite a few problems. She fears the cold and often has to cover her head and feet.
My mom used to carry my siblings on her back to go work the fields. Life was tough, and nobody taught her how to earn a living. She had to find out all by herself. She became the one in the family to decide what to plant, what to grow. My personal observation is that in life, women see further and clearer than men.
My mom loves everybody around her and she made them know it. Our Ede people have a custom that on his wedding the newlywed husband adopts a couple in his wife’s village as his parents. My mom has a dozen such adopted sons because everybody loves her so much. My grandma had only 3 children and my youngest aunt is not married, so my mom loves people as if they were her kin.
In my eyes, mom is the greatest woman ever. She is independent. She makes decisions for the family. She lives emotionally and cooks delicious dishes.
Mom’s sister is also a resilient woman. My other aunt, my father’s sister taught me how to read. My grandpa on my father’s side taught me that I could do everything others could. He and I used to love watching volleyball matches on TV, and he told me one day I would play just as well. He instilled in me the will power to do exceptional things.
Are those days’ H’Hen and H’Hen today opposite images?
Yes and no. The women around me are tough, and therefore I have to be so too.
As a child I used to be sad, felt self pity, and talked to myself or to the trees and animals. I think other Ede girls are not like that. Looking back now, I find myself a little strange indeed. I had those monologues so often. I remember an instance when I talked to myself while scrubbing the floor and watching TV, and when my dad called, I answered in Vietnamese instead of in Ede as I  normally would..
As I went to work in the terrace fields, I talked to the grass and trees. That makes sense to me even now. Sometimes I think we the humans are so blessed by the nature and if we respect it, nature will be a source of positive energy for us.
Those monologues helped make me stronger. These days, I have less of those because the apartment is so private, almost hermetic. Since becoming a top beauty, I am having more stress. I don’t like talking to people about the hardship of my life, or to my mom about my problems. I chose to act like in the movies, talking to myself, playing two parts and find solutions by myself.
Can you share more about the time you left the village to pursue a career of a teacher instead of getting married like most of other Ede girls?
In 2010 I left Buon Ma Thuot with my grandpa’s suitcase. I don’t remember what I put in there. Some clothes, a few books, and the money my mom gave me, perhaps. Blankets and pillows could be bought anywhere. I didn’t think much, just felt happy. Going far away on a bus was also a dream of mine for so long.
I chose to study Business Finances. As a child, I used to follow my dad to the banks to do transactions, and saw the bank female employees in uniforms. I was dazzled like never before. Later, when some students that studied economics came to my village to do volunteer work, I asked them questions.
In my village, we knew about the professions of doctors, policemen, teachers etc. but banking was unheard of and scary. However, to me it was simply a field of study to satisfy my desire to learn.. It gave me an opportunity. I must listen and learn to catch the opportunity that came my way to have space and motivation to strive and to grow up.
What gave you the spiritual strength to go all the way up to the Top 5 Miss Universe 2018?
Coming to Saigon gave me a great opportunity  to see the world. Going up the stairs from Next Top to Vietnam Miss Universe to Miss Universe, without counting certain new skills I would remain the same optimistic girl ready to face new challenges to satisfy my own curiosity and to reach out to happiness with all my potential and resources.
However, the phase of Miss Universe was quite different. The pressure was enormous. I was competing not only for myself and my family, but for all of Vietnam too. Finally, I persuaded myself to think only that if I do well at this stage I will be able to help my family a lot.
Coming back from the Mis Universe contest in Thailand, I was filled with great admiration for their King Rama IX who had just passed away. He invested a lot in agricultural projects to help the Thai farmers and to change the face of the countryside. I was deeply impressed by the images and stories of him inspecting the projects and talking to the farmers. I hope to be able to do the same things for my native land.
Spiritually I was completely overwhelmed by the air of Buddhism that the people of this country breathe. It turned my heart directly towards goodness and made me feel warmer inside.
What are your plans for your native land?
Currently, the water sources in my village are not clean anymore because the soil is full of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Life expectancy used to be very high but in recent years many people have died at a very young age. I don’t know if it was because of the pollution or not, but I join force with the local government to test the water and clean the water resources.
I also want to build a communal house to be a place for community activities and to hold artifacts of traditional culture of Ede people.
I will do whatever I can to improve the life of the children: building toilets, bringing tap water and creating conditions to make it convenient for the children to go to school and enjoy a better education.
If the youth today ask your advice about pursuing own dreams, what would it be?
I think the most important thing is, never stop learning. Everybody should update their own knowledge in various aspects to keep  pace with the world and be ready for the future.. Furthermore, we need to think positively. When we are optimistic and think that the best is still ahead, we will achieve.
To Ede girls in particular, I would like to add, “Start dreaming early. Don’t be scared if your dreams are different, if they lead you to the big horizons far beyond our village. Be bold and daring to look for your own opportunity.”

Thank you for your sincere thoughts, H’Hen. Wish you success in fulfilling your Miss Universe missions and accomplishing your personal plans. 

Text by Thuy Lien, Photo By Thien An
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