Miss Universe Malaysia 2011 DEBORAH HENRY on travelling, the refugee school she founded, and meeting Michelle Obama and Julia Roberts.
As a former beauty queen, model, and TV host, Deborah Henry is utilising her influence in the entertainment industry for a good cause. The co-founder of Fugee School, this belle of Malaysian-Indian and Irish descent firmly believes in the importance of giving back to the community and works actively to provide refugees in Malaysia with a better future. In 2019, Fugee School celebrated its 10th Anniversary, with another milestone reached back in 2018 with the launch of social enterprise Fugeelah, producing accessories and jewellery to financially sustain the school while also offering training to the refugee community.
Meanwhile, Deborah also loves exploring the world, particularly for how it gives her new perspectives on life and the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of others, and shares with us here about her favourite destinations, memorable moments and how travelling has changed her.
What is your idea of THE perfect vacation?
For me, it is a combination of a few factors. I think the people you go on holiday with is a huge part of a trip. I like to explore the weird and wonderful places of the world as well as its different aspects. As Anthony Bourdain would say; travelling is meant to change you, make you uncomfortable, question things, see the world through different lenses of the people you meet, through the food you eat, through the experiences you have; it makes you think about things, and it challenges your perception. It helps to open your eyes and see how big and amazing the world is. As I grow older, I’d rather spend money on memories with the people I care about.
What is your favourite holiday destination overseas, and why?
London is very much a part of me; the weather, food and culture. London is very familiar and there’s so much to do there. When referring to the beach, food, and a trip with girlfriends, I think of Bali. Also, I love Australia because I’ve got family living there. It is relaxing, the food is good and I love skiing.
What is your favourite local destination, and why?
It is really exciting to have so many options near Kuala Lumpur now. For example, in Janda Baik, Pahang there are cute homes you can stay in. It is really nice to see people stay there on the weekend, exploring the beauty of our own country. For me as a KL girl, it has been about discovering East Malaysia that is Sabah and Sarawak. There is so much to discover there, and Mulu Cave is fantastic! I also went diving in Sipadan last year and the place is just stunning.
How do you plan your holiday itinerary? What’s the first thing on your itinerary when you visit a brand-new destination?
I like the balance of a little bit of planning yet not over-planning so you still leave room for exploring local places. I also like spending a couple of days in a place so you get to feel the energy of the city and do what the locals do. It really helps if you have local friends because you’ll get a better experience. For me, food is also an important part of traveling so I’ll do a research beforehand on different places instead of the norms.
When going through KLIA or klia2, what services or facilities do you find most appealing?
I really like the KLIA Jungle Boardwalk because it is very green and I like the fact that we could incorporate that element into our airport. I think there are more food and shopping options for tourists coming from all over the world. klia2 has a big shopping mall! It is great to see that people have more access when they travel. Everyone at the airport is helpful, be it at the train or the counters, and you can always turn to someone for help.
How do you keep yourself occupied on long layovers or when there’s flight delays?
I always have a book with me and I listen to Spotify. I like to listen to a lot of podcasts, too. I also like to do a walkabout around the airport and check out the souvenirs as well as what different airports have to offer.
What is the one destination that you reckon everyone must visit at least once if given the opportunity?
I would say go somewhere that you feel uncomfortable going to. Sometimes we have to make ourselves a minority in a place. When you come back to Malaysia, you’ll have even more gratitude in life with what you already have. I am the biggest believer that travelling changes how we see the world and it puts things into perspective.
What are the TOP 3 destinations in your bucket list, and why?
I definitely want to do the Northern lights or North pole – South pole trips. Then, I want to do horse riding in Mongolia and explore somewhere in Africa - I love Africa! I’ve only been to South Africa, though I’d really like to go to the gorilla sanctuary in Rwanda and experience the safari in Africa.
Could you share about your experience meeting Michele Obama and Julia Roberts?
I was a speaker and moderator for a Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific session featuring Julia Roberts, who is one of my favourite actresses, so it was an honour to be given the opportunity to meet both her and Michele Obama. We are three different women so when we went on stage, it was more like three women from different lives being able to sit on the stage as three equals. This is something that women fight for around the world. It was really special for us to be able to equally share our stories. Michele Obama has an amazing aura and she commands the room, and her life journey is very interesting.
What about your travels, could you share with us ONE memorable episode during any of your holiday experience, that you still talk about to this day.
My first trip to Lebanon was really interesting. We arrived at the airport in Beirut and they didn’t unlock one side of the door so everyone got trapped on the bridge. Then, when we were driving, we got very close to the border of Israel, an intense area. We had bodyguards and people on walkie talkies for security purposes. They had to check what routes were safe so we really felt on edge. That was a unique experience because I really felt it in a real way so I will never forget that experience.
Watch this video below to find out more about what Deborah Henry and Fugee School does to help the children of refugees in Malaysia.
Video Direction/Interview by: Izzat Nizar
Video/Audio: Khalid A. Hamzah
Editor: Hafiy Joe/Khalid A. Hamzah
All photos copyrighted to and courtesy of Deborah Henry; except main photo credited to and owned by Louis Vuitton.