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A small town girl makes good

Newly crowned Miss Malaysia Universe Sabrina Beneet believes beauty opens doors and is determined to make her reign meaningful

Awestruck and overwhelmed, Sabrina Beneet could barely keep the coveted Miss Malaysia Universe tiara from sliding off her head as she did her victory walk. As the cameras clicked away to record her initial disbelief and her tears of joy, Beneet absorbed the announcement that the spotlight will now shine brightly on this farm girl from Bagan Serai in Perak.

By the time she attended her first press conference as Miss Malaysia Universe a little later, Beneet's crown sat securely. She was also composed and at ease as she answered questions from journalists. The 23-year-old psychology and communications major from Segi College showed why she was the favourite to win the title.

Beneet is determined to make the most of her reign to draw attention to issues important to young women. "There were a lot of things I wanted to do even before winning. Now, with the title, I have some weight behind my voice," she says.

One cause Beneet will be championing is support for rape survivors, propelled by a close friend's trauma after being sexually attacked by a group of men, one of whom she knew.

"Many women are afraid to come forward out of shame. Some are afraid their experiences will be made public especially if the perpetrators recorded the incident on their mobile phones and threaten to blackmail the victim by posting the images online. It's time for women to take a stand. Keeping quiet will allow the perpetrators to do the same thing to other women.

"For once we are going to send out a clear message: 'You touch me, I am not going to let you off. I am going to make you face the consequences'," Beneet stresses, adding that recorded images will help nail the perpetrators and provide solid proof they were at the scene of the crime.

Although Beneet has not solidified her working plans, she hopes to reach out to rape survivors by creating a service or platform where they can call anonymously for counselling and help. Beneet also plans to raise awareness on safety for women.

"It is not uncommon for young, small town girls coming to the city for the first time to be naive and trusting of strangers. With no family and guidance, they can be easily influenced and this can be their downfall. Many girls also do not know how to defend themselves. I am not telling them to physically fight back but they should know how to take preventive measures such as being aware of their surroundings," she says.

A small town girl herself and the youngest of four siblings, Beneet grew up on a two-acre farm in Bagan Serai, Perak and says she spent most afternoons running with chickens, goats and cows. She was terrified of the cows but readily made friends with the goats. She even had a favourite billy goat named Lee Bun Cit who died tragically in a road accident.

Her days as a farm girl lasted 11 years then the family ventured into the frozen meat business, selling packed cuts of lamb, beef and venison to the local market and also exporting them to Singapore and Indonesia.

Beneet, who grew up in a loving Catholic family, remembers spending her Sundays helping to pack frozen meat.

Being exposed to manual labour from a young age also shows in her strong, well-toned arms.

"I can easily handle a shovel and carry two full buckets in either hand," she boasts, adding that she keeps her biceps toned by pumping iron every day.

"Ours was a business-minded family. It was not unusual for our parents to talk about business ideas and strategies with us. I guess this is why I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit," she says.

The turning point in Beneet's life came on her 18th birthday. Fresh from secondary school, she was raring to explore her options. As her three elder siblings were all in college, the idea of asking her family for financial help in pursuit of higher education did not seem right so she took matters into her own hands.

"I felt that I should challenge myself to try and accomplish bigger things. So, I came to Kuala Lumpur and lived with my elder sister," she says.

Her goal was to pursue a tertiary education but she had to earn the money to pay for the fees. Her first job was at a gym where she worked as a membership consultant for eight months.

"Because I was very passionate, I became one of their top performers. In a month, I hit RM40,000 (Bt403,000) for the company and received RM7,000 to RM8,000 in commission," reveals Beneet, who has also had short stints as an air stewardess and an IT support personnel at a call centre.

Beneet conscientiously saved up her earnings to finance her double degree. It would take her two years, with the help of a partial government scholarship, and she is now one semester away from graduating. However, having won the Miss Universe Malaysia title, she has deferred her studies till December 2015.

She is still reeling from her triumph and knows 2014 will be an eventful year. The highlight will be representing the country at the Miss Universe pageant, which is scheduled to take place in Brazil between October and November.

For now, Beneet is just revelling in the moment, full of anticipation of the adventures and opportunities that await her.

"I just want to be the woman that I want to be. As long as I have inspired others to empower themselves, I would have achieved something," she concludes.


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