Monday February 1, 2021

By: Luissa Burton “The Official Green Queen”

For non-Tagalog speakers that translates to “I love the Philippines”! And MABUHAY (greetings)!

Wow, what better way to celebrate the 5th year anniversary of Manila Up! Magazine than with a journey down memory lane. Specifically, of a trip that changed the trajectory of my life.

Had I not gone to the Philippines in 2016, I may not be here today writing as “The Official Green Queen”, as it was this trip where I began to develop my own personal brand. In 2016, I had the opportunity to represent England at the Miss Earth pageant in the Philippines. It is an environmental pageant followed by 600 million worldwide. The final took place at the Mall of Asia arena in Manila and was aired on ABS-CBN. I placed the England sash for the first time in history in the “Top 16” at the final and won a gold medal for “national costume” and a bronze medal for “talent”.

It took me three attempts at the national competition in the UK; placing runner up TWICE before I finally won on the third try. It was my sheer determination and passion for wanting to attend Miss Earth so much that caught the attention of the Filipino fans. “Pia Wurtzbach also tried three times for her national pageant,” said fan websites as they compared my story and journey with Pia’s. I was receiving so much warmth from Filipinos and I hadn’t even arrived in the country yet!

“It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

It really is more fun in the Philippines! This was the catchphrase during my time there and it couldn’t be truer. I spent one month visiting different locations such as Ilocos, Davao, Butuan, Manila, Versailles Palace, Alabang, and Boracay to name a few. We visited local governments, schools, and different universities to speak on the impact of climate change and to raise awareness; educate others through our advocacies. I am finding it difficult to put into words how best to describe the welcomes for each visit. We were overwhelmed with love, music, dancing, singing, food, and smiles everywhere we went. Bright colours, bright sounds, ENTIRE villages came out to greet us. We would arrive at schools and have 2000 children screaming in excitement to meet their favourite Queens from different countries. I still get tagged on social media years later in selfie pictures from Miss Earth fans. I cannot ever do the Philippines justice trying to verbally express the warmth we received. It has to be felt to be understood and I highly recommend anyone to visit and experience the people firsthand.

Miss Earth has always been a forward thinking pageant for its time. Miss Earth has been advocating environmental awareness long before it became mainstream. Of course there are other pageants such as Miss Universe or Miss World, but I found Miss Earth to be very different from the rest. It aligned with my core values of environmental preservation and encouraged participants worldwide to make a genuine impact on their local communities and governments. We were not just paying lip service during Miss Earth to appear charitable. We were going out and truly making a difference. This was important to me. While the dressing-up in beautiful gowns was fun, taking part in the impact work is what gave me deep satisfaction.

I never took the path of pageantry to be crowned the “most beautiful girl”. I took the path because I wanted to gain a platform and visibility for me to speak on the causes that I feel passionate about – skin conditions, holistic health & wellness, and environmental activism. With a background in modeling, working for one of the world’s biggest modeling agencies in America was not fulfilling to me. I wanted to go beyond pictures; I wanted connection, impact, and service. Becoming first a local, then national, and international titleholder was the vehicle for me to instigate change.

At Miss Earth, as a total of 100 delegates, we planted hundreds and hundreds of trees during our time in the Philippines. We planted in muddy mangroves, fields, and forests. We also planted rice walking through kneedeep rice paddy fields. There was never a complaint from the girls. We visited rural villages and joined-in with community activities such as pumping the water well and the traditional process of pounding rice husks. How many beauty queens do you know that will dig in the soil, plant a tree in a beautiful dress, and not care about the consequence of their manicure? Talking of beautiful dresses, I had my two evening gowns designed by famous Manila local couture designer, Leo Almodal. His exquisite dresses drew my eye from England. I chose him for his attention to detail but also for the two following aspects:

1) I wanted my dress to be made locally so that the carbon footprint of the dress was lower.

2) I wanted to support Filipino talent and commerce. He employs local women seamstresses to make the dresses.

A particular highlight was visiting a school in Manila where I had the opportunity to judge the students environmental projects. I was highly impressed with how concerned the people of the Philippines are with environmental protection. Given the beautiful scenery of the destination, it makes sense that Filipinos would take great pride in wanting to protect it. Many places we visited weren’t using single use plastic straws or plastic bags (remember, this was in 2016). It took many years for countries like my own, the United Kingdom to catch up.

In Ilocos I was blessed to visit the stunning Santa Maria waterfalls. In Davao we visited Pearl Farm which was eye-wateringly beautiful; white sands stretching for miles with crystal clear water. And of course, the captivating Boracay Island. Sadly, after we left Boracay was closed down for refurbishment. This was due to the destruction from careless tourists visiting Boracay with no regard for keeping it clean. Tourism is an essential part of the Philippines’ economy. However, with more tourists comes more trash. Please, if you decide to visit the Philippines or any destination for that matter, take part in responsible tourism! If we all make an effort to do our own individual part then we can enjoy travelling responsibly whilst helping local economies.

How to travel responsibly:

1) Always pick up your trash. If you are visiting the beach and there are no available bins, take your trash with you. This simple action will protect the natural wildlife. The worst offender is the small round plastic lid caps on water bottles and soda. These caps get easily buried in the sand or if they enter the water, they sink and get eaten by fish & birds.

2) Invest in a small “eco-kit” to travel with. This can include a reusable metal straw, metal cutlery, reusable water bottle, and a sustainable tote bag. This way when you are out, you can refuse any single-use plastic straws, cutlery, and plastic bags as well as refill your bottle. These items are tiny enough to fit in your luggage and a tote bag ALWAYS comes in handy anyway!

3) Offset your carbon emissions. Use www. to calculate your CO2 emissions with the calculator.

4) Use electronic or digital ticketing where possible instead of printing boarding passes, etc.

5) Look up the hotels’ sustainability policies before booking. Choose to stay with companies that are making tangible commitments to operating sustainably.

6) Where possible, travel light (although admittedly I do find this one easier said than done!) Thank you for reading, travel responsibly, and congratulations Manila Up! on your 5th year anniversary!

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