by Nicole Cordoves
It has been a beautiful week for 12 candidates of the prestigious Miss Universe pageant who flew to the country to experience what the Philippines has to offer. They are among over 90 beauty queens who will compete for the Miss Universe crown at the SM Mall of Asia Arena on January 30, 2017.
The group started off by testing their surfing skills in Siargao – the surfing capital of the Philippines, walked through the historic walls of Intramuros and swam with the whale sharks of Oslob in Cebu.
More than enjoying nature’s wonder this side of the globe, the candidates experienced first-hand the famed Filipino hospitality and warmth from pageant fans in areas they visited.
When asked what Miss Myanmar looks forward to in her Philippine visit, she exclaimed, “the pageant fans!” something they don’t have in Myanmar.
Miss China was pleasantly surprised when Filipinos greeted her in Chinese, “Ni Hao, Miss China!” as if she never left home.
Miss New Zealand Tania Dawson, who is half-Filipino, felt the bond when she met Filipinos, describing them as “very hospitable and so much friendlier!”
But beyond their beautiful faces, the ladies have inspiring stories to tell that make them worthy of their crowns.
Today, read and watch in Manila Bulletin’s media platforms the stories of a microbiologist who wants to find a cure for HIV, a civil engineer who fought for her dream to become a beauty queen, and a tough soldier who wants men in uniform to find peace.
Meet the candidates:
KIRAN JASSAL, MALAYSIA
It was right after her college exam before entering the college of dentistry when she thought of applying in the Miss Universe Malaysia pageant. She drew courage from her mother who joined the Mrs. World Malaysia 2015 pageant. “Despite being a mother and a full-time lawyer, she went all-out to achieve her dreams of becoming a beauty queen, and to step out of her comfort zone at that age was something incredibly impressive to me,” said Kiran. Her sister, Dr. Ranmeet Jassal, who was first runner-up in the Miss Malaysia-World 2016 landed in the Top 20 in the Miss Grand International 2016.
TANIA DAWSON, NEW ZEALAND
Since 1983, New Zealand has not brought home a second Miss Universe crown. But as Tania’s journey begins, she makes sure that her heart is in the right place: “It is far more than the crown. The role itself [Miss Universe] is a powerful one that can inspire and change other peoples’ lives.” Even without a crown, Tania is already inspiring and changing people’s lives as a teacher of Media Studies and Drama of high school students. She believes that “every person should invest in themselves.”
DESHAUNA BARBER, USA
DeShauna is a rare breed who has dedicated her life to service. Before joining the Miss USA pageant, DeShauna was a soldier in the US military. Today, she uses her sash and crown to raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the resources available to help the soldiers get through it. “It (PTSD) is a human reaction to trauma, a lot of soldiers encounter this type of reaction when they serve overseas and they see a lot of things most human beings shouldn’t see.”
Given her military background and as an IT analyst, one cannot help but wonder how she ended up in the company of world beauty queens. Being a purposive woman, the reason why DeShauna is a queen precedes the reasons for fame. “Beauty comes in different shades, different backgrounds and all walks of life. I think that being Miss Universe will give me an opportunity to show so much of what it means to be a woman, a woman who has a career behind her; it’s showing women that no matter where you come from or what you have experienced in your life, you can be the next Miss Universe.”
SARI NAKAZAWA, JAPAN
Sari has a year to finish her degree in dentistry when she was crowned Miss Universe-Japan. She describes her journey in the intersection of a crossroad where her two interests meet: Modeling and charity work. She started modeling in high school, the same time she went to Vietnam and Cambodia to do charity work. She went to Jordan on a dental mission where she had the chance to meet Syrian refugees.
CHALITA SUANSANE, THAILAND
Chalita is the kind of lady who would laugh at your jokes and ride with your quirks, like collecting Snoopy. Another kind of superwoman who balances her studies with modeling in Thailand, she is a year short of finishing a degree in Microbiology. How does she plan to use her degree? Being a student of Microbiology, Chalita wants to find a cure for HIV. But first, Chalita reminds everyone to protect themselves. She is fearless and equipped with a contagious giggle and that is just so beautiful. Chalita was inspired to go into the world of pageantry because of her mother who won a local pageant in Thailand in 1992.
JENNY KIM, KOREA
Jenny is redefining what it means to be a Korean woman. She is currently working on her double major in International Office Administration and in English Language and Literature in a women’s university in Korea. Jenny explains that, “in the past, women in Korea couldn’t get a lot of education.” Historically, women in Korea only gained equality and empowerment after they became independent from Japan where women started going to school and have since invaded professional fields, making them a vital part of their economy. Today, Jenny, along with a million other Korean women, draw empowerment and confidence from this new mold.
Her advocacy is to put an end to child abuse which is rampant in Korea. “It’s a really big issue in Korea, as it has been going on for several years. There are parents who do not take care of their children and really just leave them there.” Figures show that there are about 95,622 cases of child abuse from 2004-2013, 84 percent of which are perpetrated by their own parents. “I believe children are the light of the future and if there are no children, there won’t be Korea.”
LI ZHENYING, CHINA
Li was crowned Miss Universe-China a month ago. She is a towering beauty with a good command of the English language, a skill she worked hard on aware of the role of Miss Universe. She took up Business Administration in college then shifted to entertainment where she became a model and part of a TV show in China. One thing she really looks forward to in the Philippines is the passion of the Filipino fans for pageants. She was pleasantly surprised when Filipinos would greet her “Ni Hao, Miss China!” which shows the close ties between the Philippines and China.
DANG THI LE HANG, VIETNAM
Le Hang is currently taking up Marketing and Hospitality in college because her passion includes food and culture – experiences she wants to share with everyone. Synonymous to her passion, she joined the #HashtagLunchBag project where she helps prepare lunch packs for people. Aside from this, she also works with Smile Train, a cleft lip and palate charity for children.
KEZIA WAROUW, INDONESIA
Before joining Puteri Indonesia, Indonesia’s national pageant, Kezia was a bank officer with a degree in Informatics Engineering. But she can’t just ignore her dream to join pageants and was surprised to win the Miss Universe title. Today, she uses her voice to advocate for women and children, particularly those living with HIV and the victims of human trafficking that is prevalent in Indonesia.
When asked what winning the first Miss Universe crown would mean to her and for her country, she said, “The Miss Universe crown will be a gift from God and it will be the result of my hard work for my family and most especially Indonesia.” She would like to go on a mission to pursue World Peace and show that we could all work together, even if we come from different countries.
HTET HTET HTUN, MYANMAR
It’s only been four years since the Miss Myanmar beauty tilt was brought to life once again since it has been banned by their government in 1962. “I am very proud to represent my country because out of the 60 million people in Myanmar, I was the one chosen to represent them to show how Myanmar is today, how women from Myanmar act, and how strong we are.”
Htet Htet is a civil engineering graduate who pursued a modeling career, a dream she has always wanted since she was a child. She now owns an events company. This huge career leap is a product of Htet Htet’s resolve to fulfill her dreams. Her parents were reportedly against her modeling career but she fought for her dream.
MAXINE MEDINA, PHILIPPINES
By this time, Maxine Medina has become a household name. Hers is a Cinderella story of a simple girl who would go out in a plain shirt, a pair of leggings, and sneakers sans makeup and suddenly crowned Binibining Pilipinas Universe.
I will tell you two instances that revealed the real Maxine. The first time was during the Binibining Pilipinas pageant where one of our activities involved visiting kids with cancer where we played and interacted with kids the whole day. I looked over my shoulder and saw Maxine crying silently as she talked with a sick child. When we got back to the bus and sat beside each other, she was still feeling sad over the plight of the cancer kids and what they were going through at such a young age and full of life. Since then, Maxine has carried the advocacy towards kids, may it be with Operation Smile where volunteer doctors give free operations to kids with cleft palate, with UNICEF where she learned about kids who live with HIV, or visiting kids with cancer at the Veterans Hospital.
Another time was when I had to fight for Maxine’s quiet but strong spirit. Since coming back from my competition in Las Vegas, the people I meet would always ask me how Maxine is doing and would suggest that I teach her public speaking. I told them an anecdote to drive home a point they missed about Maxine. “There was this time I was in Cebu for a project with her and we met a mother who was with her three kids. As we were talking, one of the kids revealed that their mother is actually blind. After a few moments, I was asked to have photos with the clients and we were looking for Maxine so she could join us in the photo. But upon spotting her in the crowd, we just knew she could not be disturbed. It was like she was surrounded in this sound-proof bubble where she was having an intimate discussion with the family. It’s one of those moments you really didn’t want to take away from someone.” Maxine may not be the type of girl who has the words, but she is the girl who would touch your heart.