Wednesday, December 21, 2011

iStyled: Venus Raj for Manila Bulletin 12/21/2011

Ambassadress of hope

December 21, 2011

MANILA, Philippines — Venus Raj knows how it is to be a child. No, make that, a poor child.
She knows how it is like to have no money.
She knows how it is to live in a small house with no electricity back in her hometown in Bato, Camarines Sur.
She knows how to make do with only one peso in her hand.
But the beauty of it all is that Venus never looks back at poverty with resentment and bitterness. It was an experience that made her who she is now, a strong woman with a vision of her future.
“Kung iisipin ng ibang tao ‘yung kalagayan namin parang ang hirap ng buhay namin. Pero sa amin, normal lang na piso ang baon namin sa elementary, dalawampiso sa high school. Masaya na ako na piso ang baon ko,” the 23-year-old beauty queen recalls
Today, as an Ambassador for Poor Children’s Rights and Welfare of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and a spokesperson of TINGOG 2015 campaign of United Nations Philippines, Venus is more than just the face and voice of promotion. She knows in her heart what she is advocating for.
“Hindi talaga ako nag hesitate, yes, gustong-gusto ko. Just being there and serving as an inspiration to children and their parents. Alam nila ang story ko kung saan ako nanggaling, kung anong klaseng pamumuhay meron kami dati. Nakaka-relate ako sa pinagdadaanan nila,” Venus enthuses.

Venus says being a beauty queen is not just about looking good in front of the crowd. More importantly, it is using the title to positively influence and help others.
After winning fourth runner-up in the Miss Universe 2010 pageant, Venus immediately rose to fame, in a “major, major’’ way. She is now one of the hosts of the morning talk show “Umagang Kay Ganda.’’
“I’ve been interested in this advocacy but I did not know how to do it when I did not have a voice yet. It helps na kahit papaano nakatulong ang Miss Universe, nakatulong na nasa showbiz ka kasi ‘yung mga gusto mong gawin magagawa mo kasi you’re someone already,” she says.
As Ambassador for Poor Children’s Rights, Venus helps promote maternal health and the importance of education through DSWD’s Conditional Cash Transfer or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, a poverty reduction project geared to help the extremely poor for healthcare and education.
“Siguro sabi ng iba waste of money lang ‘yan. Maybe hindi naappreciate ng iba kasi napakaraming problema ng bansa na kailangan pagtuunan ng pansin, bakit ‘yung project na ‘yun pa. Pero kung ikaw ‘yung nasa sitwasyon na ‘yun, ako na-experience ko na nag-aaral ako ng walang financial assistance from the government, and it’s just a privilege na binibigay ng government sa atin. Pero ‘yung R300 na ‘yun, napakalaking halaga na ‘yun. At napakalaking tulong na ‘yun para sa isang batang nag-aaral,” she emphasizes.
Venus was also recently chosen as the spokesperson of TINGOG 2015, an SMS and online citizen’s feedback program which aims to use information and communications technology to empower citizens to report on delivery of services and expect timely response from local governments. This aims to help fulfil the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Education is one of Venus’ main advocacies. For her, finishing her education was the only way she could have reached her current place in the sun. She was able to finish high school and college through a scholarship from a foundation. Venus finished a degree in Communication Arts from Bicol University.
“Sa nanay ko, napaka importante sa kanya ang edukasyon. Alam naman ng mga magulang ngayon na ang edukasyon ang sagot sa kahirapan,” she shares. “Kaya ‘yun ang sinasabi namin sa mga bata, napakaraming paraan kung gusto mo talagang mag-aral. Ang role na lang nila bilang mga bata ay pagbutihin nila ang pag-aaral nila. Ipakita niyo sa lipunan na worth it ‘yung pera na ginagastos sa inyo. Kapag gumraduate ka at naging maayos na ang buhay mo, naging kapaki- pakinabang ka sa community, sulit na ‘yung binigay ng gobyerno,” Venus adds.

Of course, Venus’ other passion is joining beauty contests. From these tilts, Venus get a certain high, moreso when she clinchéd a place in the Miss Universe pageant.
“Ang sarap kasi ng feeling kapag nasa entablado ka, nagco-compete ka, hihintayin mong sabihin kung sino ang mananalo. Siguro, bilang bata, ‘yun ang gusto kong gawin kasi ‘yung older sister ko, nagpa-pageant din, nakikita ko siya, so parang inidolize ko siya,” she shares.
Venus started joining beauty pageants when she was Grade 5. Her first beauty contest controversy also came around that time when her winning was questioned by the school principal. The crown was given to a schoolmate instead.
“I was vying for Ms. Intramurals and I got first runner-up. Pero umakyat ang principal namin and said, no, hindi siya ang panalo. Kasi daw Grade 6 na siya, next year wala na siyang pagkakataon, si Venus puwede pa next year. Unang pageant pa lang may ganito na agad?” she now looks back with amusement.
Since then, Venus has not stopped until she got to the top of the beauty contest circuit. In 2008, she was crowned fourth runner-up in Miss Earth 2008. In 2010, she was crowned Bb. Pilipinas Universe, and eventually the fourth runner-up in Miss Universe.
The only advice she can give to aspiring beauty queens is to finish their studies first before doing pageants seriously. “Walang masama sa beauty pageants basta tapusin niyo pag-aaral niyo, puwede ka naman sumali anytime,” she says.
She adds: “Makinig sila sa magulang nila kasi wala silang hahangarin na masama para sa’yo. Huwag sila titigil sa pangangarap at pagtrabahuhan ang pangarap na ito.’’
For this year, Venus plans to celebrate Christmas with her family in a simple celebration, something she always looks forward to every year.
“I will definitely be with my family.
I wish this Christmas season will be the happiest Christmas celebration. I hope,” she says.
The best gift she has given though, she says, is nothing material — forgiveness. “Forgiveness, for some people. Hindi mo naman maiiwasan ‘yung conflict with other people pero if you forgive these people and talagang masasabi mo na wala kang dinadalang sama ng loob kasi alam ko na nagpatawad ako.” (With interview by Ronald S. Lim)

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