Helping children fulfill their dreams is the advocacy of newly crowned Miss Universe Catriona Gray and she made this known in her opening statement at the coronation night of the pageant held in Bangkok, Thailand.
Gray bested 93 other contestants from all over the world in the Miss Universe competition on December 17.
For her, it was lack of child support that killed the dreams of her fellow Filipinos.
“Working in some of the poorest areas of my country, I found that it was a lack of child support not poverty that killed their dreams,” Gray said.
“A child once told me, ‘Cat, it’s just not my life and those dreams are not for me’ but I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them,” she added.
The 24-year-old model had been vocal on her goal to end poverty in the Philippines since she was a candidate for Miss World in 2016.
She has her own project for it called “Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project” that raises funds for children in the Smokey Mountain landfill in Tondo, Manila.
Gray also uses her talent in singing to run this campaign since she has a degree in Music Theory at the Berklee College of Music, a premier international school for music, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ending poverty in the Philippines
In 2016, Gray tapped a non-government organization called “Young Focus Philippines” to help her provide free and accessible education to Filipino children.
Her focus for now is on the children of Smokey Mountain, one of the largest garbage dump sites in Metro Manila. It is also the home of thousands of Filipinos who mostly depend on scavenging for livelihood.
The site opened in the 1950’s and had since attracted thousands of poor Filipinos
She planned to renovate a three-storey building there into a child care center and preschool for children aged three to five years old. She asked the public for donations through a video on her YouTube channel.
Two years later, the same building was featured in her own music video of her first single titled “We’re in this Together.” It is now fully restored and developed into a small school.
According to the website of Young Focus, it’s primary aim is to raise funds to provide free and accessible education to the children of Smokey Mountain.
It currently runs a day care center for malnourished children up to two years old and educational programs for five to 20 years old boys and girls.
In the 1990s, the government sought to close Smokey Moutain and move the informal settlers there to the Payatas dump site in Quezon city.
In 2000, a mountain of garbage collapsed and killed approximately 200 people. The late Pope John Paul II described the people there as “among the poorest in the world.”
Gray perceived that the education of Filipino children of Smokey Mountain is the best way she can help alleviate poverty.
“It has become my mission to fundraise for the Preschool in Smokey Mountain. Through multiple efforts such as holding and performing at benefit concerts, auctioning off original artworks, creating social media movements and approaching different bodies and companies I hope to make the Paraiso: Beginning’s Project a success,” she said in her blog.
Gray previously shared a post saying she felt most like a queen when she spends time with the youth.
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In the final round of the Miss Universe competition, she highlighted her advocacy in her answer.
The chosen question for her is: “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?”
Gray related that she looks in the “beauty of the children” in her work in the slums of Tondo.
“And I will bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson,” part of her answer said.