Monday, 28 August 2017

VIENNA CALLING: Future psychoanalyst Gina Hargitay maps out a plan for transforming young lives

POWER POSE: The supersmart beauty and college girl plans to pursue a Masters and a Doctorate in the near future.

Ahead of departing for Austria’s Sigmund Freud University to commence studies in Psychotherapy Science, former Miss Jamaica Gina Hargitay talks to us about social change, sickle cell and saving Jamaican youth.

IN the UK, there’s an initiative called the Jamaicans Inspired Ambassador Youth Programme. Gina Hargitay, a former Miss Jamaica World who moves easily between her European base and her beloved island paradise, serves as lead ambassador for this programme, which distinguishes itself as Diaspora-based initiative connecting second and third generation Jamaicans (living in the UK) to their Jamaican heritage.

“The aim of Jamaicans Inspired is to give these young people a meaningful connection to a culture many of them know very little about,” Hargitay tells TALLAWAH, as she brings us up to date on life in her orbit, on a golden Thursday afternoon at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston.

What becomes at once obvious is that charity work and initiatives steeped in life-changing social responsibility matter deeply to Hargitay, who won the Miss Jamaica crown back in 2013, at age 18, and has been lending her time and resources to a number of causes since then. In other words, she ranks among those Jamaican beauty queens who take the idea of ‘beauty with a purpose’ very seriously.

Apart from her work with Jamaicans Inspired, she is heavily involved with Sha Sha Mane Sunrise, an organization that does work with three countries in the Caribbean and Africa, delivering school supplies to needy children “to improve their education and give them a strong start in life”; and the Sickle Cell Support Foundation of Jamaica. Hargitay, whose older brother was stricken with sickle cell – (“I have the traits,” she tells us) – wants to see the stigma attached to the illness removed.

“I want to help change the way we view it and the way society treats people with sickle cell. It’s not a disease to be taken lightly,” Hargitay insists. “I really want people to understand that.” Today, thanks to consistent treatment, family support and the input of entities like the Sickle Cell Support Foundation, her brother is alive and well. But she knows scores of Jamaican families are not as fortunate.

Today, using her celebrity and influence to help bring about meaningful change in a country she cherishes goes beyond sickle cell. Jamaican youth need help, and Hargitay sees where she can be of use. This September she’ll be enrolling at the world-famous Sigmund Freud University to pursue a Bachelor’s in Psychotherapy Science, her second degree programme. 

“I want to be a psychotherapist. What I really want to do is help young people on a personal level through psychotherapy. The degree will allow me to come back to Jamaica and work with kids, especially in the inner-city,” she explains. “I think remedial programmes can be improved by using behavioural therapy. For a lot of these kids a great way to help them is to reconstruct their past and show them a different path.”

Hargitay holds a first degree in History and Political Science from the University of Westminster. By fusing the knowledge she gains from both degree programmes, she hopes to widen her reach. “I love history. When you know the past, you know the future because life comes in cycles,” shares Hargitay. It will take her three years to complete her studies in Psychotherapy Science. After that she sees a Masters and a Doctorate on the cards.

Did I mention that she’s just 22 years old? By her own admission, this daughter of a Hungarian dad and a Jamaican mom, has grown by leaps and bounds since taking that first walk as Miss Jamaica. “I have transformed entirely. Growing up, I was very sheltered. Winning Miss Jamaica definitely made me come out of my shell and become more well-rounded. It gave me something meaningful, it gave me such purpose,” she reflects, with wide-eyed candour.

But, of course, in life you have to take the bitter with the sweet. “I think the most challenging part of the whole experience was having to care what people thought about me,” she recalls. “I have had people judge me before they even met me. They think you’re not intelligent, and some think that all beauty queens are stand-offish. So I’ve met people who say they are surprised to find out that I’m really nice. They think you’re just pretty. So those misperceptions give you a chance to really shock them.” She lets out a hearty laugh.

Gina Hargitay, who is six feet tall “without heels,” is a mélange of fascinating contrasts. Her inner nerd loves comic books, the curious intellectual is intrigued by the possibilities of psychology and the glamour girl buys beeswax and shea butter in bulk and concocts her own beauty products, thank you very much.

But what is she most passionate about? Helping people. “I think we can improve the minds of the youth by showing them a brighter path, and I think the [Jamaican] government is starting to see that,” Hargitay observes. She’s looking forward to Vienna with an open mind but vows to let the universe guide her in terms of other future plans. “I want to finish this degree and then I’ll have an idea of where I’m going next. I definitely see myself working with autistic children; they fascinate me. I want to see how I can help them integrate into society to live more meaningful lives,” she explains. 

What about starting a family of her own? “I’m way too young,” she replies, laughing. “Maybe after I have settled in my career, then I’ll start thinking about that. Give me another five years!” 

> GETTING TO KNOW GINA: Some of her culture faves 

Books: To Have of To Be (Erich Fromm); A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking) 
Musicians: Damian Marley, Chronixx 
Movies: Lord of the Rings trilogy; anything in the Marvel series 
Fashion: T&T Designs, Neahlis and Max Mara 
Global Icons: Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou

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