It might sound cliché, but even if Miss Haiti doesn't go on to win the Miss Universe pageant, her singular story of overcoming tragedy, multiple obstacles and Haiti's ruinous situation following the devastating earthquake earlier this year is something to be celebrated across the world.
In an exclusive interview with Celestrellas at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas where Sarodj Bertin, Miss Haiti, is staying in preparation for the big event on August 23, she shared her story with us: As a nine-year old, Bertin witnessed her mother's murder, an obviously traumatic experience which has shaped her outlook on life and absolute desire to succeed. More recently, she won an improvised Miss Haiti pageant, organized amidst the misery and chaos that the earthquake left behind in this tiny Caribbean nation. It is the first time in 22 years that Haiti has participated in the Miss Universe pageant.
Magali Febles, former director of Miss Puerto Rico, believed that one of the ways for Haiti to rebound from the earthquake's devastation was to celebrate the beauty and grace of the people of Haiti. She moved to organize the Miss Haiti pageant and send a candidate to the Miss Universe event in Las Vegas. In a modest event, without sponsors Sarodj Bertin was crowned as Miss Haiti. She didn't even get a bouquet of flowers.
Ms. Bertin is a 24-year-old lawyer who speaks four languages and recently returned to Haiti after living in exile in the Dominican Republic. She returned to help in the rebuilding of her cherished nation, to help lead Haiti to better times, to more peaceful times.
Flying into Las Vegas from Miami, Bertin faced a new challenge, albeit a minor one in comparison to her past. Her luggage was lost. She lost clothing, shoes, and accessories; all meant to be used in her pageant preparations, to meet the judges and wow them toward a win. However, in the same collective spirit that is helping Haiti rebuild, Miss Haiti has received gifts and loaners from fellow contestants and many other supporters, ending up with more items and accessories than she had packed to bring with her.
Was losing your luggage a bad omen?
"I forgot about all the things I lost. A lot of people have helped me. Many Haitian fashion designers have lent me clothing, purses, and accessories. I have what I need to compete. I can't focus on what I lack. You can learn from your losses. It was just another obstacle to overcome."
What does it mean for you to have Haiti back in Miss Universe, after 22 years of absence?
"It is a privilege and an honor. I need to let the world know about my country. I want to change what people think about Haiti. Yes, we have poverty, we are in the middle of a crisis, but we also have so many beautiful things to share."
By participating in Miss Universe you are also honoring your mother.
"Yes, definitely. My mother's name was Mireille Durocher Bertin, she was a great lawyer in Haiti. She was a human rights activist, a social leader who was preparing to participate in the presidential elections in 1995 when she was murdered. It was a very traumatic experience for me, but I learned from it too."
If you win Miss Universe, would you dedicate it to your mother?
"She is always on my mind. I think she is now very proud of me. I am going to work for my country, no matter what happens during the pageant. If I win, I will dedicate my triumph to God first, then to my mom, my family, to my people."
What would happen if you win Miss Universe?
"I would be one of the happiest women on earth. It would mean bringing the first Miss Universe crown to my country. My presence in Miss Universe means a lot for the Haitian people; it is a sign of hope. If I do not win, I will still have fulfilled my primary task of spreading the word about my country's situation. All I really want is to be an honest and proud ambassador for my country."
Do you think Miss Haiti can help the world reconsider their impressions of her country?