PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The crowd was already chanting her name before 25-year-old restaurant owner Carolyn Desert was crowned Miss Haiti 2014 Sunday in Port-au-Prince.
She steadied the crown, decorated with crystals and tiny mirrors, as she acknowledged the standing ovation at the Karibe Convention Center and repeated a vow she'd made earlier in the competition: "I'm going to support the youth. I'm going to support women. I'm going to support the poor."
Desert, a freelance writer and the owner of a Mexican restaurant in the upscale Petionville district of Port-au-Prince, is known for supporting artists and helping impoverished children. She was a favorite from the beginning. Her wide smile earned her a "most photogenic" award, and her eloquent response during the competition's question-and-answer segment made the crowd of more than 400 people erupt in applause.
She said Haitian women have more to offer than looks: "Perseverance, courage, resilience."
Desert was one of only two women in a group of 21 participants who competed with closely cropped hair, a decision that had been fiercely debated by Haitians on radio and in social media, with some criticizing competitors for choosing to wear hair extensions or straightening their hair instead of embracing their natural hair.
Desert will participate in the Miss World competition in London in December. She also will represent the country on trips sponsored by the country's tourism ministry.
Among those cheering for Desert were 16 girls from the Restavek Freedom Foundation, which helps rescue child slaves in Haiti.
Volcy Manoucheca, 16, told The Associated Press that she has been living at the foundation's home for the past three years and has always enjoyed watching beauty pageants on TV.
"I like the way they train, the way they speak, and I like that they move up in society," she said of competitors.