Local Beauty Queen Gives "Lessons for Life" to Jamaican Children.
The glamour and excitement of an international beauty contest held in the exotic Far East may be the last place one would expect a young woman to join the global campaign tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
This, however, is exactly what happened to 24 year old Raquel Wright, Miss Jamaica Universe 2005 during her participation in the Miss Universe finals in Thailand in May 2005.
“The platform of the organisers of the Miss Universe contest focused on HIV/AIDS and on working with people living with HIV/AIDS, so there were a lot of activities planned around this. One morning there was a meeting and each lady from each country was presented with a folder on our countries. When I opened my folder on Jamaica and began to read the statistics which related to my people it was heartbreaking. It really brought home the reality of HIV/AIDS to me,” Raquel explains.
She says that meeting became a forum for sharing, as different participants began talking about their experiences. She was particularly touched by a speech from Miss USA who had two close friends who had died from HIV/AIDS related illnesses.
“Miss USA encouraged us to do what we could, especially those of us from countries badly affected.”
This experience motivated Raquel to dedicate her time to the HIV/AIDS prevention campaign in Jamaica. When she returned home she contacted the Ministry of Health who involved her in the national launch of the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy and introduced her to the local Lesson for Life campaign, which is supported by UNICEF. Lesson for Life is a global campaign, organised by the Global Movement for Children, that gives children an opportunity to discuss the prevention and impact of HIV and AIDS and encourages them to take action in their communities to help prevent the spread of HIV and support those who are affected. In Jamaica the campaign is conducted by the HIV/AIDS Response Team of The Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture.
Raquel says she was involved in the 2005 campaign from its planning stages right through to implementation of the last activity - the “Make the Promise” competition in which students from primary, all-age and high schools across the island presented messages of HIV/AIDS prevention and anti-discrimination through drama, dub poetry, rap, puppet shows, posters and banners.
“Lesson for Life gave me the first hand experience of working in HIV/AIDS prevention,” Raquel explains. “I went to the six regions (of the Ministry of Education) and taught lessons in institutions. I find our Jamaican children are very well educated about HIV and AIDS. They know a lot and this to me was one of the most fulfilling experiences – not only teaching, but also being taught by the students.”
Based on her experience with the campaign, Raquel is determined to continue to work in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, particularly with children and young people, even after her reign as Miss Jamaica Universe ends in March 2006.
“Lessons for Life is just the beginning. We need people who will stick with the campaign and people to become more proactive about HIV/AIDS. It needs support and people need to become passionate about it because HIV/AIDS is one disease which can affect all of us – no matter your age, your skin colour, your social status. It does not care who you are.”