‘No one sees the tears, hard work’
Friends and family sitting in the audience burst into laughter when they heard the question Sabrina Herft would have to answer. The five finalists were facing off on a Q&A, one of the final rounds of the Lux Siyatha Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Universe. Reading from a tiny slip, the host of the evening asked “What do you think is the biggest problem facing our educational system today and why?” Those who knew her, were aware that Sabrina had been working with the Higher Education for the Twenty
First Century project (HETC) since January. She couldn’t have picked a better question if she wrote it herself.
Taking the mike, she replied: “Do you know that 330,000 students sit their A/levels every year and only 22,000 get into our public universities? If you look at the statistics that clearly shows where we need to improve our educational system and that is where we are lacking.”
Sabrina’s assurance sealed the deal – having won three mini-pageant titles already (Miss Body Beautiful. Miss Confidence and Miss Personality), the title seemed within grasp. “You don’t know what you’re going to get,” she says, looking back on that night. “I was prepared for anything.”
The glitzy ceremony was the culmination of two months of heavy rehearsals. Sabrina, who says she was determined to go all in, was up at 5 a.m. every day, often in the company of a friend who helped her study her current affairs. After work, it would be daily rehearsals that began at 6p.m. and went on till late at night. In between were nine mini-pageants at various locations across the island. “It definitely was intense,” says Sabrina. “Going into it, I was very naïve. No one sees the tears, the hard work and all the rehearsals that we go through… It was two months of hard training – it’s like boot camp.” And the work is just beginning – Sabrina must now start preparing for the Miss Universe pageant.
Despite the fact that the pageant has been postponed from September to December, Sabrina expects the days to fly by. “Everyone says that it’s still not enough time,” she says, anticipating having to compete with participants from countries like India and Venezuela where “beauty is their profession.” “We don’t have that kind of training,” she admits, but is determined to keep reading, working out and attending her public speaking classes. “Obviously, I’m going to work a lot harder, if that’s even humanly possible. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m never going to be able to represent my country like this again,” she says. “Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to bring back the crown to Sri Lanka.”
Sabrina still seems a little surprised to find herself rehearsing for a full scale pageant – she says she first considered it at the urging of her friends. The young Miss Sri Lanka, who turned 25 last Sunday, has never even modelled before. “I always had a plan. For me my education has always come first,” she says.
“This was not something I had thought about. It was definitely off the beaten path.” Briefly outlining her career to date, Sabrina says she studied at the Asian International School and then British School in Colombo before moving to Melbourne in 2007 at the age of 19 to do a degree in Media and Communications.
After graduating she lived and worked there for two years, first at Channel 7 as a researcher of current affairs and later at a marketing company. Her time abroad has opened Sabrina up to allegations that she hasn’t spent the pre-requisite number of months in Sri Lanka to be eligible for the competition. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” she contends, shaking them off. “It would be unfair to turn around and say I’m not Sri Lankan.”
In addition, she emphasises that she returned to Sri Lankan in November 2011 and first began working at HETC as a media coordinator in January this year. (In her official bio, Sabrina stated that she was a media coordinator for the World Bank, but today she clarified her designation, explaining that HETC is a World Bank funded project.)
The project says their main objective is ‘to enhance the capacity of higher education system and to deliver quality higher education services in line with equitable, social and economic development needs of the country.’ While her time in Australia helped her become more independent and she enjoyed the exposure to a new culture, Sabrina is happy to be working at HETC. “I always wanted to come back, I wanted to do something for my country which I felt was very important.”
Since her win, Sabrina has already been travelling and was most recently seen on the runways of the Chennai Fashion Week where she took to the ramp as a showstopper for Sri Lankan designers Darshi Keerthisena and Prabath Samarasooriya. The experience was “eye opening” and “fantastic” but Sabrina says she already begun to put some thought into what she would like to achieve in the year ahead, regardless of how she performs at Miss Universe.
“I’m trying to figure out what I want to do and how I want to help, but obviously, women’s issues are very important to me.” She intends to put her time in the spotlight to good use. “In a year there’s going to be another girl, and I’m going to be the ex-Miss Sri Lanka. So I definitely think that I have to make the most of my title this year.”
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