Education is a right, not a privilege. Miss World Philippines - Negros Occidental Gwendolyne Bolivar Fourniol says more Filipino children should be given opportunities to finish their studies, as this can uplift the lives not only of their families but also their communities.
Gwen (as she is fondly called) is an example of the power of education to change lives, as her mother was a former beneficiary of the ERDA (Educational Research and Development Assistance) Foundation, which sends underprivileged children to school. She shares, “my mother, Sim, grew up in poverty in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. There were seven children in the family and only one sibling was given the opportunity to study. Losing hope for her future, she found her way to Manila to stay with a cousin and it was there that she met Fr. Pierre T. Tritz, SJ, who founded ERDA in 1974 to give underprivileged but deserving children the opportunity to study.”
With Fr. Pierre’s support, Sim Bolivar obtained a degree in Psychology from the Philippine Women’s University, and was able to work as an au pair (foreign household helper) for a family in Luxembourg where she met Thierry Fourniol at a park. “If it were not for ERDA, I wouldn’t exist, and my mother would still be living in poverty in Negros,” Gwen adds. Her mother is currently working as a nurse in London, while her father is working as a senior analyst in Belgium.
Before joining her first Miss World Philippines pageant last year, Gwen was pursuing an Economics degree at Oxford Brooks in London in the UK. She hopes to join an internship program with JP Morgan after graduation, and is also looking towards launching a French tutorial service in the Philippines.
She is using her platform to support ERDA, which has already helped some 800,000 Filipino children receive an education, and is calling for equality in education rights. “There is a misconception that women should be the ones to stay home and keep house and raise the children, and are therefore given less opportunities to study. My mother, because of the opportunity that was opened to her by the ERDA Foundation, was able to send her six siblings to school. This says so much about the power of women to uplift their families out of poverty. We should push equal rights for education regardless of gender.”
She says that Miss World, with its platform of ‘Beauty With a Purpose’, resonates with her advocacies.
Gwen placed in the top 15 th of last year’s Miss World Philippines competition, and she talks about her pageant journey so far. “I grew up in France and pageants are not as big there as they are in the Philippines. I did not have that dream of becoming a beauty queen growing up; it was my mother who encouraged me to go for a screening. The first time around, I was very alone because I was very new.”
She recalls that in her first stint, they called her a baby of pageantry. “I didn’t know how to style myself and I didn’t know how to do makeup. Now, with the support of ProMedia, I feel more confident. I am stronger physically and because of this I am also stronger mentally, because when you exercise and treat your body right, it also goes a long way towards your mental health.”
ProMedia is a project management group that is passionate about wholistic beauty (body, beauty, and brains). At its helm is CEO Paul Reyes, ably assisted by Jam Aquino, director for operations. Aquino is also the CEO of The Belle Salon. “We, at ProMedia, stage beauty pageants and body-building competitions. We also train beauty pageant athletes, so called because they are required to train like athletes,” explains Paul. “We see the true beauty in Gwen. She has a striking face, inner strength, wit and confidence. Furthermore, she is passionate about her advocacy,” shares Paul. “Essentially, she represents beauty with purpose.”
Gwen hopes that with the Miss World crown, this #ExceptionallyEmpoweredFilipina can empower people through education which is the greatest equalizer. “I want to reach out to humanity and continue the legacy of Fr. Tritz. If one person can transform 800,000 lives in this country, imagine what so many people can do to help millions more in the Philippines and around the world.”
Watch the Miss World Philippines 2022 Beauty Pageant Finals on June 5 at the Mall of Asia
Arena. Gwendolyne Fourniol is candidate No. 25.