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First Deaf Miss Universe Contestant Earns New Fans

Maik Hassel

By Maik Hassel

A photo studio in Vancouver, Canada made a new client recently and, in the process, gained a new hero.

Shayla Selma Sabbagh, who will be representing BC for Miss Universe Canada in 2014, recently underwent a photo shoot with Nirvana Photography, a boutique photography studio located in downtown Vancouver.

"Shayla turned out to be an absolutely amazing person," the studio reports on their Blog. "Admittedly I was nervous: Not only is she the first deaf Miss Universe contestant, but also deals with epilepsy, which puts a bit of pressure on a shoot that is of great importance to her pageant."

Sabbagh, whom the studio also describes as "not the beauty pageant type of girl," has had 15,000 seizures to date and, as mentioned, is deaf. She began to lose her hearing during her time in college studying for a career in medicine. However, her disability never stood in the way of her dreams; Sabbagh combatted this change by learning sign language and lip reading, as well as becoming both volunteer and advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

On their blog, Nirvana Studios comments, "While she brought her own sign language interpreter, she was an incredible lip reader, and had I not known that she was deaf, I wouldn't have noticed. Her ability to overcome her disability is short of astounding."

Her lifelong dream has been to help people, and she's doing a fantastic job of it. In fact, her primary purpose for competing is to raise awareness to rare diseases and empower girls with disabilities.

The beauty pageant isn't the only venue where Sabbagh dedicates herself to helping others. She has been volunteering with Coast Mental Health for the past three years, working with individuals living with both their Deafness and a mental illness. In fact, so inspired by the work she does with these children, her career path has since changed to one of Psychiatric nursing and behaviour intervention. She also volunteers with the
Alzheimer's Society of BC, posAbilites, Rhythm of Life, Ride to Conquer Cancer and the BC & Alberta Guide Dog Services.

She even focuses on charity on her gofundme fundraising page, stating "One part of Miss Universe Canada is being a good volunteer and humanitarian. 10% of my gofundme will go to OPERATION SMILE. -An international children's medical charity that heals children's smiles, forever changing their lives."

Sabbagh has been nominated for the WIDHH Annual Award of Merit, as well as the Langara Activist and Achievement Award. She is also an athlete, from her personal studies of Can-Ryu Jiu-jitsu to completion of the Vancouver Triathlon last fall.

Even after going through so much in her life, Sabbagh appreciates every day she has.

Nirvana says of her, "With boundless determination throughout life's obstacles, she will happily continue dedicating her life to making a difference."

Nirvana ends their blog post with a simple sentiment: "Shayla, we will all be voting for you!" I can only hope that sentiment is echoed throughout the world for Sabbagh, who is the pinnacle of a beautiful person inside and out.

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