NEW YORK — The first Miss Haiti in 22 years is not the typical contestant you'd find in a beauty pageant. She is a young lawyer who speaks four languages and is happy to be able to help her country after the horrific earthquake that devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation last January.
Sarodj Bertin had a privileged childhood in Port-au-Prince until age 9, when her mother, lawyer and opposition leader Mireille Durocher Bertin, was gunned down after announcing the creation of a political party that would compete with that of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the upcoming elections.
Her father then moved Sarodj and his other children to the neighboring Dominican Republic, where the 24-year-old beauty, who considered her mother her idol, studied law and worked for the International Alliance for Haiti's Recovery.
Nevertheless, she was obsessed with the Miss Universe pageant. After the earthquake, she entered a contest, won and spent the last few months in Puerto Rico with the director of the Miss Dominican Republic and Miss Haiti franchises, Magali Febles, who took charge of her training for Miss Universe, to be held Aug. 23 in Las Vegas. (The pageant will air on NBC and Telemundo, 9 p.m.-11 p.m. EDT.)
In a recent interview at the Miss Universe headquarters in New York, Bertin spoke with The Associated Press about the importance of her new role, how she expects to help her country and a mishap that would have been the end of the world to any other contestant: Her luggage with her entire Miss Universe wardrobe disappeared on a recent flight to Miami.
AP: What are you going to wear now that you have lost your Miss Universe wardrobe?
Bertin: The people of Haiti have been extremely supportive. They learned what happened and a few designers came to me and loaned me their gowns, bags, shoes. And I, I feel like the most special person in the world right now because they cared for me.
AP: You are a lawyer, you're studying for a masters, you speak French, Spanish, English and Creole, and you are learning Mandarin. You are not the typical Miss Universe contestant.
Bertin: The Miss Universe pageant has always been a dream for me, since I was a kid. I used to watch the contest and think, "Why is my country not participating? I want to see Haiti participating." ... When I finished college, I gave up on the idea. I thought it would never happen. I thought someday ... I could celebrate the contest and send a girl myself. So when they told me that they were going to do it this year ... I trembled, I cried, I screamed.
AP: Some criticized the contest, considering it too frivolous, especially amid such a state of emergency.
Bertin: Everybody remembers Haiti in moments of crisis. ... I want them to see also the beauty that there is in my country, to be interested in giving opportunities to the young people. ... They should see it as a light, a hope.
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AP: How do you think your participation in the contest can help your country?
Bertin: There are many people who want to help but don't know how and sometimes they need a voice to tell them what are the necessities of the people. I want the people, through me, to be who says what their necessities are.
AP: What are your expectations for the big day?
Bertin: Obviously, if I win I'm going to be the happiest woman. ... (But) regardless what occurs that night, my objectives are the same: work for my people.
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