The view by some that she was “unfit” and not beautiful enough to represent T&T at the recent Miss World Beauty Pageant in China did not faze Athaliah Samuel. Her critics now have something more to talk about—her heart. In the Guardian’s Centre Stage Column last Friday, Samuel made a heartfelt plea for violence to stop in Laventille, in the wake of a recent spate of killings in the area, including that of a mother of eight who was struck by a stray bullet. The John John resident urged an end to the thug and gun lifestyle in which many young men have found themselves. She empathised with their feelings of marginalisation, neglect by the Government and the stigmatisation that follows the people of east Port-of-Spain. But she also insisted war was not the answer. The professional model said there are many like herself who live within the community, who, if given the chance, will prove their worth. She vowed, through her charitable organisations which are still in development stages, she would continue advocating for the improvement her community. Samuel takes the title of Miss World T&T very seriously and says she had no intentions of becoming one of those beauty queens who did not get involved in social problems, or speak out on the issues that are violently eating away at the fabric of our society. Most of those who commented on her statement when it was posted online, praised her passion and dedication.
What former queens say
Former Miss World Giselle Laronde-West, said she agrees with Samuel that not enough is being done in her community, but felt it is not necessarily beauty queens who should be doing something. Laronde-West, who supports several charitable causes, personally and through her work at Angostura Limited, said being able to help hinges on resources and assistance from several parties. “No one person can do it and certainly not just because one is a T&T representative, should she be expected to try to do something. “I also do not feel that every T&T representative should have to speak out on social issues. It depends on the individual and how strongly she feels about that particular cause. I agree that every Miss T&T should take her role seriously when she is Miss T&T, as she is representing our country. But after she fulfils her duty, her life is up to her and no one should pressure her to do anything she is not inclined or able to do, or is passionate about,” says Laronde-West. Kenisha Thom, who represented this country at both Miss Universe and Miss World shared Laronde-West’s sentiments. Thom experienced the horrors of crime first hand when she and her mother were brutally attacked during a robbery. She said while she understood Samuel’s plight she believed all queens are linked to a cause about which they are passionate. “If Athaliah’s passion lies in serving her community then I would suggest she garner as much support as possible and some of this I believe can stem from those same faces that once represented our country internationally. Crime is not an easy topic to discuss, neither is it an easy social ill to address, so I support her desire and my NGO (Arts-Insight), will be willing to lend support in any way we can.”
Thom’s NGO was incorporated in 2010 and serves people with a range of disabilities. Nicole Dyer-Griffith, Miss T&T Universe 1999, said it is heartening to note that Samuel would continue her social work and wants to engage her experiences for the strengthening of her community. Immediately after the pageant, Dyer-Griffith continued her work in the field of HIV/Aids mitigation at a local and regional level. She was nominated and trained as a UNDP change agent in the field. She has continued this venture in collaboration with a number of agencies. “More than wanting to speak out on social issues, I wanted to be the change that I sought, and felt it imperative to become a more forceful part of the landscape from a sociopolitical perspective and ran for elections in 2007 and 2010. “While in the Senate I contributed to the passage of a number of pieces of legislation that would have made a significant impact on the lives of the people of T&T—ensuring that my contributions were always citizen-based.” Dyer-Griffith also recently launched the Gill Foundation which caters to the holistic development of children aged nine to 15.