Who would have thought that a simple province girl can be one of the most-admired beauties in the world? With rice paddy dikes as her first catwalk and stringed sampaguitas as her first crown, who would have thought that Maria Venus Raj will make it to the center stage of Las Vegas for the Miss Universe pageant, 2010?
From the outskirts of Camarines Sur, in a place called Bato somewhere in the Bicol region, Venus, together with her mother and four siblings lived a simple and uncomplicated life. In the middle of sprawling rice fields was their nipa hut, where they lived with no electricity for more than 20 years. Her mother and stepfather, who raised Venus as a child, worked as tenants in a farm.
At 17, she started joining local pageants and different contests. With her victories, she started buying lands on installment basis for her family as a means of improving their livelihood.
Despite being born out of wedlock, Venus did not let her dire circumstances get the better of her. Hence, Venus grew up with confidence and grace. The rice paddy dikes served as young Venus’ own catwalk, where she developed her distinct modeling ability.
Learning the tricks
Through thick and thin, Venus had her studies on top priority. Aside from the beauty pageants, she also joined oratorical contests in San Vicente High School where she finished her secondary education.
Through the scholarship grant that she received from the Francis Papica Foundation, Venus was able to finish her college years at Bicol University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts major in Journalism, with Latin Honors (Cum Laude).
Venus learned to balance her passion for modeling and her career. While working as an Information Assistant at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region V, she spent her spare time working as a part-time fashion model in Manila.
Not only is Venus physically regal in bearing, she is also an intelligent and well-bred woman, grounded with moral values.
Journey to the catwalk
When Venus Raj won as Miss Bicolandia in 2008, more doors opened for her modeling endeavors. She represented Legazpi City and was crowned Miss Philippines Earth-Eco Tourism in the same year.
It seemed like the crowd, the catwalk and the crown loved Venus very much as she was again proclaimed as Binibining Pilipinas Universe in 2010. From then on, the simple country lass earned the admiration and respect of Filipinos both here and abroad.
Facing the major issue
A few weeks after her coronation at Binibining Pilipinas, Venus faced a major issue that almost caused the downfall of her rising career. Inconsistencies between her birth certificate and the personal account of her birth have been allegedly spotted by the Binibining Pilipinas pageant organizers. Venus was then dethroned and was briefly replaced by second runner up Helen Nicolette Henson, since the first runner up did not meet the age requirement.
Venus stood up with confidence and fought to claim her title back. Many people also supported Venus because they believed that she should not be penalized because of the unfortunate and unorthodox circumstances of her birth. In the end, the pageant organizers agreed to let Venus reclaim her title if she can secure a valid Philippine passport.
Major, major win
Today after hurdling many crises, including the high-profile dethronement, Venus is facing a life that she never thought she would have achieved at an early age. On the horizon, her star shines. On the center stage, her beauty stands out. She may not have the Miss Universe crown, but she is still a winner in her own right.
Her saga has proven that dreams are achievable through hardwork, sacrifices and most importantly, faith. From rags to riches, from an ordinary barrio girl to the world’s stardom, may Venus Raj’s own Cinderella story be an inspiration to all.