The winner of LIVA Miss Diva Universe 2020 has her sights on winning the prestigious contest, which is set to be held in the US on May 16. ''As a young girl growing up in Kuwait with no exposure, I would always look up to Miss Universe with so much awe but never imagined a girl like me who had a speech defect and had marks on her body could ever represent her country on such a prestigious platform. ''Leaving home at 15 pushed me beyond my comfort zone and forced me to look at positives in life and work on my strengths,'' Castelino told PTI in an email interview.
Born to Catholic parents Alphonse and Meera Castelino in Kuwait City in 1998, Castelino was 15 when she moved to Mumbai where she studied at St Xavier's High School and later graduated with a degree in business administration from Wilson College.
But things took a different turn for her when she participated in the LIVA Miss Diva Universe pageant, held in February 2020, and eventually emerged victorious.
''Life changed tremendously with the kind of responsibility that came on my shoulders and the interactions I had with people. I felt like I was a girl yesterday but now I had to walk towards being a woman, a woman who supported the society, raised issues that she believed in,'' Castelino said. ''I feel that the journey has taught me a lot, especially to be grateful for what I had and a position like this in society can always make a positive impact,'' she added.
The 22-year-old model said her strength lies in facing challenges head on.
''I represent those 664 million women from my country who believe in pushing for change irrespective of limitations. My life journey and my passion to create opportunities for girls like the one created for me makes me unique,'' Castelino said.
She said due to the coronavirus pandemic, she had an unusual kind of training for the contest.
''We are at the last leg of the preparation where all our hard work, sweat and tears, everything is materialising. I had a very unique year of training and meeting in the most unconventional way possible through Zoom app, over the calls, etc.
''Grateful to the extremely zestful and hardworking team and the panellists who always held the sails in rough seas,'' Castelino said.
Though she is extremely excited to represent India at the global stage, the model said she is worried about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
''I have always looked forward to this time and now that it is here, I want to live every moment of it. At the same time my country is going through dire conditions, a situation of such magnitude we haven't faced prior, so that feeling is really saddening for me but I aspire to make my country proud and give them a reason to smile and be hopeful.'' India last won the Miss Universe event in 2000 when model-actor Lara Dutta was crowned at the pageant. Before her, Bollywood star Sushmita Sen had won the competition back in 1994.
However, Castelino doesn't feel any pressure about bringing the crown back to her home country, adding she is humbled by all the love that has come her way.
''I feel the amount of respect and admiration that I have got for my position and the amount of work that I have been able to do and learn from has been enormous, and I feel that's the kind of love I would love to take it there,'' she said.
Castelino hasn't really thought about life post the Miss Universe competition but like many of her peers, she might also try her luck at acting.
''I have always been an adventurous person, open to trying every aspect of my personality in every opportunity that comes my way. ''So, of course I wouldn't mind it (acting) but I also aspire to venture into business since I am a business graduate, and my passion lies there too. So let's see what future has in store for me,'' she said.