Luzie Shah, with photo of her daughter Parul Shah in Dubai. Parul Shah is a contestant of the Binibining Pilipinas. Image Credit: Javed Nawab/Gulf News

The journey of Dubai-born Filipina-Indian beauty queen Parul Shah to the Miss Philippines pageant took a heartwarming twist on Friday.

Ever since tabloid! published a story on Thursday about how Shah’s Dubai-based parents couldn’t afford to travel to Manila to support her on her biggest night, we’ve been inundated with phone calls from generous readers with offers of help.

Born to an Indian father, a driver, and a Filipina mother who worked as a cleaner, 24-year-old Shah is one of the 50 candidates in the finals of the Binibining Pilipinas, the Philippines’ biggest beauty pageant to be held tonight, which is also celebrating its 50th year.

But fate, or rather, a generous mentor intervened in the form of former beauty queen Maggie Wilson, who happens to be Shah’s coach.

Wilson arranged for Shah’s mother, Luzie, to fly from Dubai to Manila and surprised the aspiring beauty queen on Saturday. It was an emotional reunion, said Wilson, who won the Binibining Pilipinas World crown in 2007.

“Parul was really surprised and happy seeing her mum this morning,” Wilson told tabloid! “They were hugging each other for a long time. After that there was a mum-daughter bonding. It was a very heartwarming reunion.”

Wilson said she’s confident Parul can win the pageant. Describing her protege as “humble, smart and eloquent”, she said she is one of the best contestants she’s mentored.

Shah, who spent most of her childhood in Dubai living a modest life with her parents and three siblings, said her interest in pageants began as a young girl when someone gifted her with a T-shirt.

“I think I was 10 or nine years old that time. I received a present from a family friend who came from the Philippines. It was a black T-shirt and printed on it were the words ‘Binibining Pilipinas’,” she recalled. “I asked my mother what it meant, and that was how it all started.”

She said she remembers her mother telling her she would win the title one day. But that road has not been easy.

Her father, Pramod Kumar Ramniklal Shah, is the sole breadwinner of the family, earning barely enough as a family driver in Dubai to support his family of six. Her mother quit her job as a domestic helper several years ago to take care of her four children. Because of the family’s financial situation, Shah said she never enjoyed the luxuries most of her peers had while growing up.

“My papa is very practical — he is very Indian,” she said. “He always prioritises on the basic needs — food, house and education. If I wanted to buy a new pair of pants, he will ask me why I needed to buy one. He’ll get the old pants and tell me ‘it’s still good to use, no need to buy a new pair.’

“My mum still wears the same dress she’d worn ten years ago when she attended events. And she will always say it’s not a problem for her,” adding with a laugh: “Even their underwears are all worn out.”

Despite their meagre resources, Shah said her mother would always find a way to encourage them to be creative. “She always sent us to activities like kiddie ballrooms, arts and crafts. She really wanted us to hone our skills and talents.

“The first pageant that I joined was in 2000 and I was around 11 or 12. Then I joined Miss Teen Philippines UAE in 2003 and 2004 but I never made it. The second time I joined I was given the title Miss Confident.”

In 2006, Shah was sent to the Philippines to pursue a degree in nursing and that was when she moved a step closer to her dream of joining and winning the Miss Philippines pageant. It was a difficult decision to relocate to the Philippines as it meant that she will not be able to see her parents for a long time because of financial constraints. It was four years ago when she last met her parents as the burgeoning education expenses made it impossible for them to visit her in the Philippines, even during her graduation from nursing school last year.

Although Shah participated in a few minor national pageants in the Philippines and was crowned Miss Nursing at the University of Cordillera in Baguio City, school was always a priority and this meant that she had to forgo her plans of joining the Binibining Pilipinas for a year.

“I was supposed to join Binibining Pilipinas in 2012. It started with this blog — my friends told me that someone was writing a blog about me. I Googled my name and found a blogger who said that I should join the Binibining Pilipinas. From then on, my friends were forcing me to join the pageant, but my mum told me that I needed to finish my studies first. I think she’s right — I need to achieve one thing before doing another major step in my life.”

When she finally found the opportunity to take part in the beauty pageant, Shah found it hard to break the news to her father.

“He has no problems when I join beauty pageants, but he’s uncomfortable about me being seen around the world in a two-piece. But when my father gave me his permission and told me that I was really beautiful, that really made me feel at ease. I think he finally realised that I’m not his baby girl anymore — that I’m growing up,” she said.

More than 200 applicants were shortlisted for the Binibining Pilipinas with the number trimmed to 50 candidates for the coronation night on Sunday night, which will select the country’s representatives to the Miss Universe and Miss International beauty pageants.

“It’s a bumpy road. Binibining Pilipinas is a very competitive pageant here in the Philippines. So my challenge now is to try to stay positive like my dad always says, and always be humble. I always think that my upbringing is pushing me up,” said Shah.

“I’m a girl brought up by an Indian father, who is a Hindu, and a Filipina mother, who is a Christian, in a Muslim country. We were never forced to believe in one thing instead of the other. My parents would always tell me not to look at anyone differently — we are all equal. They’d say ‘no one is beneath you or above you Parul’. So if given the chance to win the title and represent the Philippines, I wouldn’t wear the crown on my head but in my heart, with my feet firmly on the ground.”

The 5-foot-8 stunner has been getting support from all over the world as her Facebook account receives encouraging messages all the way from Brazil, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US. She says she’s very grateful for the support, but it has been her parents’ encouragement that has given her a major boost.

“I cried when somebody told me that my mum was handing out flyers to strangers until 2am in Dubai for people to vote for me online,” she said.

For the contest on Sunday night, mentor Wilson’s advice is to be herself.

“Don’t pressure yourself, stay who you are, be confident — just think that the pageant is just a one big show. Stay humble and your answer must come from your heart,” she said.