[This article was originally printed in the Jamaica Observer on March 26, 2017]
Former Miss Jamaica Gina Hargitay spends a lot of time travelling the world.
The vivacious beauty has a busy schedule, including her role as a sought after motivational and public speaker who primarily works with young people.
She has had several speaking engagements all over the world, to places such as Senegal, Brazil, Grand Cayman, Canada, and the United States. She is currently studying history and politics at the University of Westminster in London. No matter where she is in the world, her mind and heart is still focused on one place — her homeland Jamaica.
In 2013 at age 18, she was selected as Miss Jamaica World and represented the country at the Miss World Pageant in Bali, Indonesia, where she placed in the top 10 and became Miss World Caribbean. Three years later she became the youngest inductee in the Caribbean Hall of Fame, which recognises people from the Caribbean who have made significant contributions to the region’s culture and heritage. This was just one of the several instances where her penchant for helping others, especially young people, was being recognised.
But in November 2016 Gina took on another role — ambassador for the international charity Shashamane Sunrise, a group which assists with educating children in developing countries, including in her homeland, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. During a chance meeting with a representative of the organisation that year, she was alerted to the work of the organisation and subsequently made contact with its chairman, Dr Rene ‘Zazou’ Williamson.
Gina has already made significant strides since becoming a ‘Shash Ambassador’. In January this year she co-hosted the organisation’s flagship charity event, “Fashion Meets Music” alongside another former beauty queen, Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam. Gina has also been a key figure in the organisation’s services tours to sponsored schools in Jamaica, including the Windsor Forest Primary, which is located in a poor farming community in the parish of Portland; and the National Basic School in Trench Town, one of the most socially and economically challenged communities in the Corporate Area.
“Youth empowerment is something personal for me. I’ve always wanted to empower young people, to make them aware of the impact they can have on society. I am serious about the Shashamane Sunrise Charity because it involves youth and education. I am always willing to do anything that improves the lives of young people,” said the former beauty queen, who has worked with USAID, the School for the Deaf, Missionaries of the Poor, and McCann Child Care Centre in similar capacities in Jamaica.
The former student at More House Catholic School in London, who excelled in various disciplines such as music, fencing and martial arts, is committed to doing all she can to ensure that Shashamane Sunrise has a lasting, positive impact on the children it supports.
She believes that education is one of the main channels that will spur the development of young people and catalyse growth in Jamaica and other countries in which the charity works.
Shashamane Sunrise helps sponsored schools through its model school programme, which equips teachers and students with the resources necessary to improve the learning process. Its work in Jamaica began in 2010 at Windsor Forest Primary, where it constructed a building for a reading room and library and outfitted it with computers, printers and other learning aids.
Since the intervention, GSAT passes at the school have surged from 48 per cent to 85 per cent. The organisation is aiming for 100 per cent passes in all the schools it sponsors. It is currently implementing its model school strategies at the National Basic School, and is working with other organisations to help schools, mostly in economically challenged communities across Jamaica.