Unlike the rest of her high-fashion associates, Venezuelan supermodel Patricia Velasquez isn't spending the springtime under a barrage of hairstylists and stylist fittings.
Instead, she is at the helm of the
, a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that since 2002 has worked to improve the living and educational standards of Latin America's poorest indigenous people.
Even to fashion outsiders, her face is a familiar one. Velasquez has had a long career as one of the world's most successful models. Her career has included roles as a
Angel and Egyptian Pharaoh's wife in the
Over the past five years, Velasquez has managed a life of acting and modeling with the full-time responsibilities of operating one of the most hands-on indigenous charitable organizations currently operating in Latin America. Despite an ongoing modeling career and acting commitments that most recently included a role on Showtime's
, you're most likely to see her in an airport or tucked on a plane en route to one of the Wayuu Taya school openings or touring medical centers on the Venezuelan border.
The name Wayuu Taya is derived from the Wayuu or Guajiros, a collection of ethnic groups who speak the Wayunaiki language and have been able to avoid most outside acculturation over the centuries. The Wayuu inhabit the Guajira region, between Venezuelan and Colombian territory, considered the second-poorest region of Latin America behind Haiti. Despite their socio-economical hardships, they remain a tightly joined community of hard-working people.
The Wayuu people are a matriarchal society. The Wayuu women spend much of their lives in collective groups creating colorful woven crafts and pottery that is sold throughout much of the region.
The best-known of these creations is the Susu bag, a woven bag created by a single woman over 20 eight-hour days that result in colorful original patterns that are all one-of-a-kind, much like the women that create these objects.
In 2005, the Foundation inaugurated its first
, a centrally located community of health centers, preschools and work centers.
The first roof center opened in May 2005. It provides medical and nutritional care, a school that offers children two meals a day and a women's center where Wayuu women are provided the tools and location to create their handcrafts and bags to continue their indigenous tradition while monetarily supporting their families.
Since its inception, Wayuu Taya has helped save the lives of thousands of women and children by creating a structured series of communities where women can support themselves through organized work and offer their children a safe environment for education.
Unlike the well-paid directors of most big charities, Velasquez gives freely of her time and puts all her organizational efforts into Wayaa Tuya's one annual charitable event, which this year is being held at the
in New York on June 5th.
"In just a few short years, we have been able to make a real difference to the lives of so many women and children in one of the poorest areas of the earth. I am confident that this year's gala event will raise enough funds for us to continue and expand our vitally important projects," Velasquez says.
Each year, Wayuu Taya honors selected women whose charitable passions match the dedication and vigor of Velasquez -- and this year, it's fashion designer Donna Karan.
If you walk the red carpet on June 5th, you'll likely see the white lights of paparazzi bulbs and floor-length gowns you're accustomed to at most big charitable events. As you watch Patricia Velasquez and see her short film and dedication, it will be hard not to admire this woman for giving back so much to people less fortunate than herself.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.