Mhelanie Millano has spent the last six years of her life working as a household maid to support her family of six, but one recent Sunday she lived out a totally different dream: as a beauty queen contestant.
At 5am on the big day she began putting on her makeup, styled her hair, donned an orange dress and high-heel shoes and made her way to Chater Road in Central, which is closed to traffic on Sundays.
Then the smiling 30-year-old stepped up onto the stage and danced her heart out in front of a cheering crowd. She was the fourth runner-up in the Luzon Alliance International beauty contest.
A native of the Ifugao farming belt in northern Luzon, the Philippines, Millano had wanted to be a teacher after graduating from high school, but ended up in Hong Kong instead, the BBC News Chinese Section reported. She entered the beauty contest to better herself.
In the months before the judging, Millano spent her only day off each week practising her dance moves, and even hopped around the kitchen while she was doing the daily chores. Her employer respected her decision, and there was plenty of support from friends.
She now credits the contest with changing her life. To her surprise, Millano found she had grown in confidence and become “a better me”, as the challenge had forced her to try her best in every respect.
Millano is already getting ready for the next contest. “Beauty is not on the face but is in the heart. I want to continue to join other beauty contests to get to know more friends and gain more experience,” she said.