A Leave No Girl Behind Discussion: Women who opened doors
MESSAGE TO THE GIRLS OF TODAY FROM FORMER MISS SOUTH AFRICA
A contribution to Leave No Girl Behind by Bernelee Daniell
My name is Bernelee Daniell. I am so honoured to have been given this opportunity by Leave No Girl Behind to address young girls and women from all over the world with a message that I feel very strongly about. My message has grown from personal experiences. But I suppose we will have to start at the beginning of the journey. I was lucky enough to win the coveted Miss South Africa crown in 1995. My year of reign proved to be the most challenging and rewarding year of my life. One moment you are a normal 22 year old girl and then the next minute people recognise you in the streets. I regarded my year as Miss SA as my University of Life as it exposed me to so many cultures, lifestyles and essential life experiences and I saw it as such a blessing. My year of reign enabled me to grow and mature and these life skills I carried forward far beyond that one year.
What are the misconceptions people have about me and or The Miss SA pageant? As with anything or anyone in the public’s eye, many people just see the glamour of it, the photo shoots, the beautiful gowns, the breathtaking locations but they don’t see the hard work that goes into the various projects we are involved with. It can be extremely pressurised to create awareness, raise funds etc and have an itinerary and deadlines to uphold. I averaged nine functions per day!!! I must admit that I was sad to hand over the crown to my successor as I still felt that I had so much more to give. But you realise later in life than you don’t need to be famous to do something positive for the people around you, we can all make a difference!
In 1998 at the age of 25 I got married. My marriage proved to be very challenging for me but I persevered through it and made the fatal mistakes of changing who I was to try and make the marriage work. This proved to be totally detrimental to my soul. I remember watching an interview that I had done and sat there looking at the screen wondering who this person was and what had happened to Bernelee? But my fear to acknowledge that my marriage was a mistake was just too painful and I just felt stuck as I believed that it was my duty to stay in the marriage for the sake of my two children. I had also sacrificed my dream of having a career and over the years had become emotionally and financially dependent on someone else. But despite all of this my life took a dramatic change in 2006 when I made the decision to file for divorce. My life was at an all time low. I had two children to care for and no job to fall back on. I had a very low self esteem, which had over the time developed into self-imposed limitations.
But I had experienced a shift during that difficult time as I realised that we would all benefit from this decision in the end. I realised that I might have left with nothing except what I could fit in to my car at the time but I did leave with something very important. I took with me my inner self (my heart) and two physical angels, Mikah and Mateo, and that was all that I needed to embark on my new beginning.
My divorce took me two years to finalise but through the process I realised that staying positive requires ‘the courage to walk into the unknown’. I had to confront my limitations in order to experience true happiness. I made the choice not to be a victim anymore and to restore my dignity and self-worth. Many nights I cried myself to sleep wondering if I would ever make it through. It was on this journey I discovered that true freedom and happiness all lay within me. This realisation was life-changing for me. We do control our own destiny. We have the power to overcome challenges.
Several years later I now celebrate where I have been and where I am today. I realise I am a stronger person and richly blessed because what I need, I carry within me and THAT nobody can take away from me.
People ask me if I ever regret getting married. My answer is, not at all. All my failures, challenges and disappointments have defined me into the person that I am today. I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I spend it building memories with the two most important men in my life. I have control again. My soul has healed!
Bernelee Daniell spent four years modeling internationally, before becoming Miss South Africa 1995, acting as a goodwill ambassador for her country. She then furthered her interested in television and subsequently hosted several travel programs, her own gospel music program, covered the Cannes Film Festival in 1996, as well as presented a stunt program screened in the UK. Today she is a proud mother of two young boys as well as a successful businesswomen and owner of her own marketing and publicity company.