TORONTO – Denise Garrido proved there’s nothing superficial about wearing a beauty pageant crown.
Garrido, who held the titles of Miss World Canada 2010 and Miss Earth Canada 2008, travelled to India in November on a mission to help poor children living in that country’s slums as part of the Healthy Kids, Happy Kids foundation.
She described her seven weeks in the South Asian county as an eye-opening experience.
“I went with five other beauty queens from different countries,” said Garrido, 25, who works as a medical receptionist in Bradford and has a degree in biomedical science. “The work included distributing food, blankets, wheelchairs — providing medical camps.”
She said she became aware of epidemics in India.
“The one village we visited named Samasthan Narayanpur was very remote and had contamination of their water system by fluoride,” she said. “Most of the children are born with a disease called, fluorosis, in which they’re born with skeletal defects. They can’t walk and they have to drag themselves.”
Garrido also realized many of the kids in the slums were just grateful to have human companionship. Dozens of kids would race down the street just to hold her hand as she walked down the dusty path.
“Some of the greatest things I saw, it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in, a child is a child and their heart is pure,” she said. “A silly face or a high five — they’re just as excited to do those things there.”
The beauty queens’ appearances caught the attention of the Indian media. Garrido appeared on the front pages of over 50 newspapers for her charitable work.
“Having a title is having a platform and what you choose to do with it is up to you,” she said. “Some people want to launch their career; others use this to draw attention to causes which are important to them. For me, having a title has allowed me to reach out to more causes.”
Garrido visited seven major Indian cities and villages, stopping at different orphanages and rehab centres.
“On Christmas Day, we distributed cakes to over 1,000 children in the slums,” she said. “They rarely get sweets unless it’s a special occasion. It’s almost like we were Santa Claus.”
And even though she passed the crown to another queen last May, Garrido’s going to keep contributing to different causes, including volunteering to tutor struggling math and science students.
“Charity work doesn’t end because the title is over,” she said.