Catriona Gray Used Pageantry to Push Her Advocacy For the Poor

Her recent Miss Universe win is much more than the crown and title, it’s about giving her a platform to push her advocacy to educate the poor.

During the delivery of her opening statement at the Miss Universe 2018 coronation night in Bangkok, Thailand, Miss Philippines Catriona Gray opened up about her work with marginalized children in Tondo, Manila. “Working with some of the poorest areas in my country, I found that it was a lack of child support—not poverty—that killed their dreams. A child once told me, ‘Cat, that’s not just my life and those dreams aren’t meant for me.’ But I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them.”

The newly-crowned Miss Universe 2018 is openly passionate and articulate about her advocacies, mainly focusing on education. It was her heart for giving that brought her to pageantry a couple of years back. During a television segment called “Leading Women” on CNN Philippines, Gray revealed how she came across her charity and how it led her to join the Miss World competition in 2016.

She was feeling down when she stumbled upon a non-profit organization called Young Focus, which works to provide impoverished children with free quality education. It was with them that she made her first visit to the slums of Tondo, Manila because of them. She shared on the TV show:

“At a time in my life when I was feeling like I had not a lot going for me, to see that these people living in this condition could have smiles on their faces, it hit me so hard. How can I feel like I’m lacking something when I have so much more than these people and yet they have a smile on their faces. I was just pulled to the cause. I started volunteering at first but then that’s what turned my eyes to joining a pageant because I wanted to do more.”

Before her foray into pageants, Gray worked as a model, but even then she felt unfulfilled and wanted to adjust the focus from herself to the work. “As a beauty queen, people got to know me as Catriona—what am I passionate about, what do I believe in—I was able to speak and bring people to my cause, which at that time and which still is education for the youth.”

It was during her time at the Miss World 2016 competition that she began her own project, which she named Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project. Together with Young Focus, Gray made it her personal mission to raise funds to set up a preschool in Smokey Mountain. The venture was a success and she was able to put up the Young Focus Child Care Plus Center.

“I was able to fundraise for a school and it’s been open since 2017 so to see that I can help in that and that the crown helps facilitate that in that platform, it’s the power that gives and you can help so many people with it. That’s why I started pageantry in the first place.”

In order to raise the money they needed to turn Paraiso into a reality, Gray put her other talents to the fore. She put up some of her artworks on sale and filmed a video to raise awareness in the process.


Last month, she also released a song for Young Focus titled “We’re In This Together.” (It’s also worth noting that the 24-year-old graduated from the Berklee College of Music). 


Apart from pushing for accessible education, she is also a staunch advocate for HIV awareness.

These causes could be the reason for Gray's winning answer during the final Q&A portion of the competition, where she said she wanted to use the Miss Universe title as a platform. "I've always taught myself to look for the beauty in it—to look for beauty in the faces of children and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. And this, I think, if I could [also] teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity would not grow and foster and children would have a smile on their face."

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Features Editor
Hannah is originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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