Writer: Nadine Khalil / Photographer: Jean Claude Bejjani
Jessica Kahawaty was a runner-up of Miss Lebanon 2010, winner of Miss Australia 2012 and came third in the 2012’s Miss World. She speaks four languages, is about to get a double degree in law and business finance and is passionately involved in charitable work.
For her 24th birthday, Jessica Kahawaty decided to forego presents. Instead, she took it upon herself to launch a campaign whereby friends and family could donate up to 24 USD each in lieu of buying her a gift. The mission? To raise money for ‘charity:water’, a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing clean water to developing nations. With the 15,000 USD her campaign raised - Jessica obviously has many friends - a new water pump was installed in a Rwandan village.
If it surprises you to learn that this budding philanthropist is a beauty queen you’ll be even more surprised to learn that she won her Miss Australia title after performing her pageant piano piece with a broken hand. The word ‘tenacity’ springs to mind. This August, Kahawaty went on to become second runner up at Miss World 2012, the largest competition in the pageant’s history and as you may have guessed from her surname, she happens to be of Lebanese origin.
Born in Sydney, where she still lives, Kahawaty was first spotted as a teenager by a representative of the well-known Australian swimwear brand, Seafolly. She began a career as a model, winning her first beauty pageant when she was just seventeen.
Kahawaty’s father is a jeweller and the family business, St. Germain, has been present in Australia for three generations. “I guess I learned from my father that you need to love what you do. The modelling world is incredibly dynamic. No two days are the same. There’s an artistic feel to it, in all aspects from the fashion, to the makeup and the photography. I love working with creative people.”
She’s also passionate about “things of substance” such as current and legal affairs and is pursuing a double major in finance and law as Kahawaty feels these fields will afford her a solid footing upon she can fight for the causes she believes in.
Water is one of them. But so is another concern closer to home: Australia’s often marginalised indigenous communities amongst whom she works on the educational front. “I’m a strong advocate for achieving universal primary education,” Kahawaty explains. “Education is one of the most important ingredients for creating change and improving the quality of life. By promoting education, we will promote equality and through equality, we can break down a lot of barriers.”
Whether it’s being deemed one of the best-looking women in the world - an experience she describes as “an incredibly humbling moment” - or being active in her charity projects, breaking down barriers is exactly what Kahawaty is doing, one at a time.