Christie Desir is more than meets the eye. The Haitian American beauty queen who won Miss Universe Haiti in 2014 is a self-described “entrepreneurial hustler.” Desir is building her career as an actress, model, host and helping to build schools in Haiti.
“I’m Haitian, and I’m an American. And I’m chasing my dreams in both countries,” Desir said.
Desir grew up in what she calls a tough neighborhood in the south end of Stamford, Connecticut. Her childhood home, now dilapidated and surrounded by a chain link fence, is a relic from a bygone area as other parts of the neighborhood are being rapidly revitalized. But Desir has always had perspective on the challenging circumstances of her childhood.
“I spent summers in Haiti,” she recalled, “where other children had it much worse.”
That motivated her. She worked hard in school, fondly recalling her mother’s insistence on a perfect attendance record. She would eventually go on to be the first person in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. She landed an internship with music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs and then got a full-time job at a record company in New York City.
“But something was always calling me back to Haiti,” Desir said.
In 2014, she left everything behind and moved back to Haiti, with a primary focus on volunteering and teaching English, although she said in the back of her mind she had considered competing in Miss Universe Haiti. Both the volunteer work and the competition were demanding. For the pageant, she trained and competed in a series of local contests nearly every day for three months, but she says everything was worth it when she won.
“I truly wanted to show the world a different side of Haiti,” Desir said. “And that’s what kept me pushing.”
The accolades brought Desir newfound attention and opportunities. She partnered with the nonprofit Haiti Health Initiative on a mission trip to the small village of Timo. When she asked the people of the community what they needed most, the resounding answer was a school. At the time, the town’s school and church were both housed in a small shed-like structure.
Desir noted with pride that the school is now under construction, will be built to withstand a hurricane and is scheduled to be completed by September 2019.
“The ultimate dream is to continue to open schools throughout Haiti,” she said.