WHEN she’s not on the catwalk or magazine front covers, chances are Elaine Harris is in Cape Verde.
Elaine is the “model mum” from Dundee who, at the age of 33 and just weeks after having her daughter, entered her pictures into the Top Model UK competition.
Work offers started coming in from all over the world and she’s very much in demand and now acts as a judge for Top Model.
But away from the glamour, her heart lies in a group of islands 350 miles off the coast of West Africa, and in particular with Castelos do Sal, a charity that cares for vulnerable children there.
“I met the charity when I lived in Cape Verde for four years,” says Elaine, now 36. “I moved out there in 2007 after I got a job selling property, then I opened up a tourist office on the beach.
“I loved it, and after I came back to Scotland and had my daughter, we still went back and forwards for holidays and visits.
“I even went back when my daughter was two weeks old — the day I was allowed to get her a passport, we flew.
“My daughter thinks the charity’s her school. She can never wait to go back. I asked her if she preferred Cape Verde or Scotland and she just looked at me and said: ‘Mummy, the sun shines in Scotland, but it doesn’t work!’
“She calls herself Nina in this country but she’s Salina in Cape Verde. That’s how she deals with her two lives — when she gets on the plane, she says: ‘I’m now Salina,’ and that’s what everyone calls her over there, where she beads her hair and wears African clothes.
“We actually took the name Salina from the island Sal.”
Elaine and Salina have just spent Easter with the charity, and it was a less-hectic trip than their last visit just three months ago.
“I arrived on Christmas Eve, with a four-year-old, and it was absolutely crazy!” Elaine laughs.
“We had a buggy, luggage and about 220 items in total. I took out toothbrushes and toothpaste for them the first couple of trips, and in my wisdom, decided to run a campaign to take out Christmas presents.
“That went really well. I got a great response on Facebook, Top Model donated a load of reindeer plushies, so the kids all got a present, and then I got them reindeer antlers and chocolate boxes because there’s very little chocolate out there, so giving them that was huge.
“I took across a Santa suit and one of the teachers dressed up. It was great.”
Did the kids know what the antlers were all about, because the reindeer isn’t exactly an indigenous species to Cape Verde?
“Now you’re asking, I didn’t even think about that!” she admits. “They might have been sat there thinking: ‘Why am I putting this on my head?’ but none of them questioned it.
“I think they’ll have seen Christmas DVDs and things, so they’ll have known what it was all about!
“Christmas was a good experience for my daughter. She learned everything was not about her.
“When we went to pick up all the presents, she asked if she was getting something, but I explained about these kids and she realised they weren’t going to get any presents on Christmas Day.
“Her birthday’s December 27 and she said: ‘Mummy, I think we should give all my presents to the children in Africa.’
“These kids are vulnerable. The deal is they have to go to school, but they’re only in school maybe for the morning or afternoon, so they go to the drop-in centre in the afternoon and there they get fed.
“They do a big thing about manners round the table — there’s an emphasis on respect and manners — and they can get a wash, are taught about oral hygiene and it’s just somewhere to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
“It’s invaluable what the charity’s doing. They started off with two kids and now have 52 six-to-12-year-olds.
“When I was out at Christmas, they said they were really lacking the basics, so this time, we took 60 kilos of stuff. I put it on my Facebook page that £5 gets them flip-flops, three pairs of pants, chocolate and craft stuff.
“And we ended up with 180 pairs of pants that Primark donated, 120 pairs of flip-flops I got off eBay, 60 toothbrushes with covers, lots of chocolate and games to play.
“Five pounds goes a long way over there.”
For more information or to donate to Castelo do Sal, visit www.facebook.com/ElaineHarrisPortfolio
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