08/26/2013 03:36 EDT | Updated 10/26/2013 05:12 EDT

A Determined Journey From Genocide Survivor To Model Citizen

Marie-France Sharamanzi Temahagali (Shara) has come a long way from her humble beginnings in Rwanda. The one time refugee and witness to the infamous 1994 Rwanda Genocide is the newest recipient of the Miss AfriCanada beauty Queen pageant. The University of Toronto student is determined to use her new title to promote causes that are near and dear to her. She reflects with me on her past as well as looks ahead to what she hopes will be an activist year for her.

Congratulations Marie-France on winning the 2013 Miss AfriCanada Queen pageant. Please tell me about yourself?

Thank you - I am a Rwandese immigrant who went through the infamous 1994 Rwandese Genocide with my family. Although I was young at the time, the experience still hangs over me like it happened yesterday.

I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto and major in history and philosophy. I am also a student leader within the African Students Association as an Event Coordinator. I aspire to be a law student in a year as I intend to be a human rights lawyer someday. The Genocide in my native Rwanda has inspired to become a human rights lawyer to be an international citizen that will not allow genocides to happen in my lifetime.

What does winning this pageant mean to you?

It still feels like a dream as I really did not expect to win. I am happy I did and I truly believe the sky is the limit for me. I want to use the title in the next year to promote causes I am passionate about such as crime prevention. I also would like to extend the legacy of the former Miss AfriCanada of 2012 Queen, Christine Kitoko - and help promote the charity that was started by her - Hands for the Heart. The organization intends to help women and girls from the Republic of Congo become empowered and self-sufficient.

Do you think pageants are still a great way to empower women?

Before I won, I was just a dreamer. I had many ideas but no audience. By becoming the pageant recipient - it means I now have a voice. For the most part, beauty pageants are a vehicle to highlight social justice issues we care about. I want to use mine for many causes such as the one I mentioned above. I also hope to use it to empower young girls build self-esteem outside of popular culture and influence.

Who is the one public woman you admire most and why?

This is such a hard question to answer as there are many that I admire. However - I would have to say at the moment - it is Angela Davis.

Angela Davis and I share the same passion for philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and writer Albert Camus, existentialists that have radically changed the way I look at the world. She was an educated woman who actively fought the fight against oppression in the 1960s. She has been working toward a post-institutional way of dealing with people who commit criminal acts that are beyond the prison system.

I admire the self-respect she possesses for herself. I also respected her signature Afro especially in the 1960's which for me was a powerful image that still resonates with me today. I think natural hair and loving oneself beyond beauty standards portrayed by the media is a great way to build self-esteem.