From her national costume inspired by a Vietnamese sandwich to her English that made other candidates talking, Miss Vietnam H’Hen Nie has been among the trending candidates at this year’s Miss Universe pageant.
The Dak Lak native is a Saigon-based freelance model and a member of an ethnic minority Rade. Commonly known by their Vietnamese name E De, the Rade tribe is one of the most populous minority groups in the country with some 300,000 individuals living mainly in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
“This 26-year-old Finance major served as a nanny, serving food and cleaning houses to go to college,” the emcee said during the preliminary competition on December 13 at Impact Arena, Bangkok, Thailand.
According to her Rade tribe’s customs, women are supposed to marry and start a family early. H’Hen, however, refused to follow the tradition and insisted to continue her education. To support her Business Finance studies at the College of Foreign Economic Relations in Ho Chi Minh City, she worked as a domestic helper for a year. During her internship in a bank, she shifted to modeling as a way to support herself and her studies.
After college graduation, she was discovered by a Vietnamese designer and later on joined “Vietnam’s Next Top Model,” where she placed 9th. In 2017, she joined Miss Universe Vietnam sporting a short hair and tanned skin, which departs from the usual Vietnamese beauty standard of long hair and fair complexion. Despite being mostly absent in the event’s mainstream media coverage, viewers of the live program attributed Nie’s sensible answers in the interview round as the main factor leading to her win.
In an interview, H’Hen revealed that the title helped her not only pay her family’s debts but also donate her entire $10,000 cash prize to provide scholarships in the schools where she came from. She continues her advocacy as a global ambassador for non-profit organization Room to Read, which aims to provide resources for girls’ literacy and education programs.
H’Hen Nie shared that her title drew attention to the hardships of E De women.
“Women from ethnic minorities don’t have many opportunities to come into contact with the outside world so their mindset and knowledge can be limited at times,” Nie said.
“I always treasure the traditional values of my village, but I also believe that once [our women] step out of their comfort zone, garnering more wisdom, they will be more active and are able to reach beyond their community.”