Hawa Kamara is an accomplished woman: She graduated from a prestigious high school in Sierra Leone. She runs her own boutique and hair salon. And she is now known as the first woman to represent her country in a Miss Universe pageant.
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How awesome is that?
Since winning the Miss Sierra Leone title back in July, the 26-year-old stunner has received love and support from around the world—Filipinos being among them.
In an interview with TV Patrol, Kamara revealed that she needed money to come to the Philippines, and how Filipino designers like Jian Lasala have helped her in the process.
“Jian Lasala is my designer and he’s introduced me to a lot of people around there who’s been really supportive, as well his designer friends,” she said.
We got a chance to speak with Lasala himself, to talk to us about the story behind the support, and his journey so far with Miss Sierra Leone.
Can you take us back to when you decided to help out Miss Sierra Leone? "When I saw Hawa Kamara proclaimed as Miss Universe Sierra Leone 2016 on the Facebook pages of Sash Factor and the Ministry of Tourism of Sierra Leone, I was instantly attracted to her. I personally sent a message to the Ministry of Tourism office through Facebook, and told them that I wanted to sponsor her gown. Two weeks later, I received feedback and contact details of Miss Sierra Leone as well as her National Director.
In terms of help… it wasn't asked for directly. It came as more of a plan between me and the National Director, Natasha Beckley, to get Kamara competition-ready. That's why [Kamara] came early, to be prepared by the glam team here in Manila. All of this would have been impossible if not for the trust and confidence of Beckley, who sacrificed a lot just for her country's vision to be realized. It took them 5-6 years to acquire a franchise and it was a dream for Sierra Leone to be a part of the pageant.
Beckley is Miss World Sierra Leone 2011. She competed in London and was one of the brightest contestants in the group. So with Beckley's guidance we were able to create Hawa's looks, gowns and wardrobes. She was also involved with everything down to styling and makeup, since she knows the in's and out's of pageants.
In order for Kamara to compete, Beckley also started a GoFundMe page. The initiative from her team sparked the Filipino "bayanihan" characteristic of generous and talented Filipino designers such as Arnold Galang, Yako Reyes, Jaggy Glarino, Mikee Andrei, Yves Camingue, Celine Borromeo, and Christopher Munar, to name a few. Most of them created new pieces for Kamara and donated their work so she could have designer pieces to show at the Miss Universe competition."
Why her in particular? "Miss Sierra Leone's look is very distinct; it radiates a natural air of confidence that is not overbearing. She is also very stunning in person and I have a penchant for exotic and beautiful women. It matches my brand and vision as a designer to be global. Our designs should suit all kinds of skin color, and race."
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How has the journey been? "It has been amazing and it will continue to be life-changing not only for Hawa Kamara and me, but also for the members of the IAMSL agency (who owns the Miss Universe Sierra Leone Franchise). Their team, with the leadership of Beckley, has been extremely supportive and they never prevented us from doing whatever is best for Kamara. Beckley has been the best mentor, leader, and boss. It will be a bright future for the Miss Universe Sierra Leone Organization having a leader and national director like Beckley. I am truly grateful that she is putting so much of her trust in me."
Most challenging part of the journey? "I cannot disclose what has been challenging specifically, however, regardless of how it was, their team in Sierra Leone really pulled through. Our team here in Manila only served as an auxiliary. Even if we played a big role in the launch of Sierra Leone at Miss Universe, I also cannot deny the fact that the sacrifices Beckley made were nothing but paramount, like climbing Mount Everest. I really admire Beckley and her team. The challenges that we faced here in Manila were nothing as compared to what they had to go through."
Best part of helping her out? "Kamara is very beautiful, obedient, kind, and intelligent. She’s a fast learner and absorbs any kind of information like a sponge. She always puts her best foot forward and, most importantly, she isn't bothered by any competition or intimidated by anyone (in a good way) since she knows she has something special to offer. To be more specific about it, the best part was getting to know the real her. She is a very genuine person that everyone wishes to have as a friend, sister or BFF. No wonder why she is so well loved in Sierra Leone and by Filipinos as well. She is called as the 'Salone Jewel' back in her country. She is their gem."
How was working with her been ever since she arrived? "Personally speaking, I don’t have any problem with her and our working relationship has been amazing. Through her, I found light and love. And her story inspires me a lot! She always tells me that if she got herself here from there (amidst all challenges and difficulties), then I can also get to where I want too. She is really special and I am so glad that her National Director Natasha Beckley chose her to be their country's first representative at Miss Universe."
What's her edge over the contestants? "Before coming here, Beckley always told me that Hawa is a gem and a natural woman. She was right, indeed! Hawa is very genuine and that fire within her will be her edge amongst the other contestants. She is mesmerizingly beautiful and very stunning. Her eyes speak a lot about her beautiful soul and it radiates from inside out. You really can see through her how genuine she is and that will make her win."
We don't always hear from the people working behind-the-scenes in competitions like these; most of the time, our attention is fixed on the contestants themselves, the finished products they don, and the shows they put out.
It's always heartwarming to see Filipinos, or anyone for that matter, lend a helping hand to those in need. In the competitive world of pageantry, it's especially nice knowing how people from two rival countries can, with genuine intent, come together for the same cause.
Jian Lasala and the rest of the Kamara's Filipino team will go down in history not just as talented designers, stylists and artists but as people with generous hearts whom oyu can truly countr on.
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Photographs from Instagram.com/missuniverse and Facebook.com/jian.lasala / Artwork by Jana Jimenez