World Environment Day, which we celebrate on 5 June this year, is a day that focuses on the environment and ecosystem restoration. This year kicks off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030). As the environment continues to suffer at the hands of humans, forests, peatlands and corals are seeing severe declines. The theme “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.” is meant to help us focus on preventing, halting, and reversing the damage done by humans.
As we celebrate World Environment Day, we spoke to Gizzelle Uys, a recent graduate from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies who has won the title of Miss Eco International 2020. Gizzelle was named Miss Eco South Africa in 2019, but could only compete for Miss Eco International in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Miss Eco International is a beauty competition with a focus on promoting sustainability by supporting and aligning itself with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as promoting eco-tourism around the world. This year, the event took place at Albatros Palace in Egypt, where women had to take part in several cultural activities as well as pageant activities to compete for the title.
Gizzelle, who was raised in a small town in Mpumalanga, studied tourism at the University of Pretoria. For her, the class was a space where she was allowed to grow and figure out what she wanted out of life. She says that the opportunities are endless when you put in the work. During her studies, she learnt that a person needs to get out into the world to truly experience life.
Gizzelle was raised in a small farming town where she learnt to take care of her surroundings. When asking her about her love for the environment, she says, “I've always been amazed how nature operates, and with that saw the delicacy in the balance of nature. As I got older, I also could see how human activity affects the environment. That's when I got really passionate.” As Miss Eco International, Gizzelle is an advocate for a greener future by promoting eco-tourism worldwide. She is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador and contributes to humanitarian projects through the organisation.
As we celebrate World Environment Day, we celebrate sustainability and eco-tourism. For Gizzelle, sustainability is “creating a scenario where generation after generation will have even better benefits and opportunities than we have” while eco-tourism is “having a substitute to mass tourism in an effort to help conservation and the decision to travel while avoiding having a negative impact on the environment”. As a South African, she holds onto the lessons of Ubuntu and shares the message that we are all human and that we would all be better off if we listen more than we speak.
We would like to congratulate Gizzelle on her wonderful achievement as the first South African to win Miss Eco International. Not only is she representing South Africa, but she is also doing the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies as well as the University of Pretoria proud, using the lessons she learnt during the course of her studies and upholding the values of a true South African.