How one Filipino-Palestinian beauty queen is marking Eid

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Zahra Bianca Saldua, Miss Earth Philippines Air 2018, in Manila. (AN photo)
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Zahra Bianca Saldua, Miss Earth Philippines Air 2018, in Manila. (AN photo)
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Zahra Bianca Saldua, Miss Earth Philippines Air 2018, in Manila. (AN photo)
Updated 12 August 2019

How one Filipino-Palestinian beauty queen is marking Eid

  • Zahra Bianca Saldua, Miss Earth Philippines Air 2018, was born in Jordan to a Palestinian mother and a Filipino father
  • Saldua's Filipino-Palestinian heritage is similar to that of Gazini Christiana Jordi Ganados, this year's contestant for Miss Universe

MANILA: On the first day of Eid-Al-Adha every year, Zahra Bianca Saldua savors the best of Palestinian culture and tradition in the Philippines.

The beauty queen, who is half-Palestinian and half-Filipino, said the occasion helps her celebrate her Middle Eastern heritage.

"Eid in the Philippines isn't really celebrated unless you are living in Mindanao," Saldua, who was crowned Miss Earth Philippines Air in 2018, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

"But my mom cooks Palestinian dishes such as mansaf or muskhan. Then there's magloubeh, too. It's different every year."

When the twains do meet – that is her Palestinian side of the family and her relatives from the Phillippines – Saldua says Eid is like a riot.

"They really enjoy each other's company because both sides are so friendly. My mom's side is extra friendly and extra expressive, so they really share the love. And my Filipino side is not used to it, so they enjoy it more," Saldua said.

Saldua began modeling at the age of 14 and gained prominence when she beat several other contestants to win the title last year.

 

Her new-found celebrity status has helped Saldua draw attention to a lot of important issues in the Philippines – most importantly, clearing the misconceptions about Arabs and Islam.

 

"It allows people to ask me more about Arab culture because here they have a different type of stigma or an idea of what an Arab is. Being a Muslim, they also ask me about Islam. Some of them even converted because they were inspired by my words," she said.

Saldua's parents met in Kuwait. While her father hails from the Philippines, her mother is from Tulkarm, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Together, they lived in Kuwait for a few years before moving to Jordan where Saldua was born.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Saldua family packed their bags once again to settle in the Philippines for good.

Saldua said the values instilled in her in those formative years continue to find voice even today, thanks to her mother, who urges her to rise above cultural differences.

"The values that I learned in Jordan have helped me a lot here in the Philippines because there are cultural differences here, too. My mother made sure that I did not lose that because it is a part of who I am."

"Now, I want to go back to Palestine," Saldua said, adding that part of her immediate plan is "to make sure that I go back to my homeland by next year."

"I want to build mosques in the Philippines because there are very few. The ones that are already open or functioning are not well maintained due to lack of funds."

Zahra Bianca Saldua

One way to do that, she said, is to work toward bridging the gap between Muslim and Christian communities in the Philippines.

"I want to build mosques in the Philippines because there are very few. The ones that are already open or functioning are not well maintained due to lack of funds. This brings the community together. We have a lot of events where we have Christians and Muslims ... where we feed the poor or malnourished. It's not just Muslims, but Muslims and Christians together," she said.

A short distance away in Manila, there's another half-Palestinian, half-Filipino beauty queen who is winning the heart of the nation one pageant at a time.

Born in Dapitan City, in the Philippines’ Zamboanga del Norte province, 24-year-old Gazini Christiana Jordi Ganados is the Philippines’ contestant for Miss Universe this year. (Arab News profiled. her last week.)

Unlike Saldua, who was born to a Palestinian mother, it's Ganados’ father who is from Palestine.

And while they both share a half-Arab heritage, there's another thing that is common to Saldua and Ganados: their love for Palestine and a longing to visit the country some day.

"I have always felt connected to Palestine. ... It seems this is not my only home in Philippines. There is a part of me that is really pushing me to go back to Palestine. I think it is a love that I have not known yet. Insha'Allah, I will get to have that opportunity soon," she said.

For Ganados, the reason is a bit more personal than Saldua. In a bid to learn more about her father, whom she's never met but shares a name with, Ganados said visiting Palestine could probably help her understand that part of her culture better.

"I’ve heard a lot of good stories about the Middle East: They have a lot of good food. I’ve researched about Palestine on Google. There’s a lot of architecture which is beautiful. I love exploring new cultures and I’m hoping that, maybe some day, I’ll visit,” she said.

It's a sentiment echoed by Saldua, who had these parting words for Ganados: "Good luck to my fellow half-Filipina and half-Palestinian sister. I hope we can bond and learn more about our Palestinian heritage together. But for now, go get the crown!"


Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

Updated 22 August 2019

Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

  • WHO issues first report on microplastics in drinking water
  • Reassures consumers that risk is low, but says more study needed
GENEVA: Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns but the limited data appears reassuring, the UN agency said its first report on potential health risks associated with ingestion.
Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said. Evidence shows that microplastics found in some bottled water seem to be at least partly due to the bottling process and/or packaging such as plastic caps, it said.
“The headline message is to reassure drinking water consumers around the world, that based on this assessment, our assessment of the risk is that it is low,” Bruce Gordon of the WHO’s department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, told a briefing.
The WHO did not recommended routine monitoring for microplastics in drinking water. But research should focus on issues including what happens to chemical additives in the particles once they enter the gastrointestinal tract, it said.
The majority of plastic particles in water are larger than 150 micrometers in diameter and are excreted from the body, while “smaller particles are more likely to cross the gut wall and reach other tissues,” it said.
Health concerns have centered around smaller particles, said Jennifer De France, a WHO technical expert and one of the report’s authors.
“For these smallest size particles, where there is really limited evidence, we need know more about what is being absorbed, the distribution and their impacts,” she said.
More research is needed into risks from microplastics exposure throughout the environment — “in our drinking water, air and food,” she added.
Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at Britain’s National Oceanography Center, said in a statement on the WHO’s findings: “There are no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean that they are harmless.”
“It is important to put concerns about exposure to microplastics from drinking water into context: we are widely exposed to microplastics in our daily lives via a wide number of sources, of which drinking water is just one.”
Plastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said in June. That study said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish.
The biggest overall health threat in water is from microbial pathogens — including from human and livestock waste entering water sources — that cause deadly diarrheal disease, especially in poor countries lacking water treatment systems, the WHO said.
Some 2 billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, causing nearly 1 million deaths annually, Gordon said, adding: “That has got to be the focus of regulators around the world.”