A best-in-class student, world traveler, dance teacher turned international model turned social entrepreneur, Deva-dee Siliee (27) has that special brand of star quality that turns heads and lights up rooms. A real-life Barbie-Einstein, Deva appears to have all the necessary ingredients to accomplish her hopes and dreams: down-to-earth charisma, striking beauty, an inquisitive, open mind, profound passion, unwavering optimism, and remarkable self-awareness… but Deva’s fierce work ethic might be her greatest asset of all. In her own words, “When I say, ‘hey! that’s what I want to do!’, I go for it.”
Committed to continuous learning, Deva is deliberate about seeking inspiring and challenging work. She decided to move back to Curaçao in October 2012 – after living in New York City for 9 years – to embark on her latest adventure, Curaçao Cares, with longtime friend Lysa de Windt (30). Curaçao Cares provides a convenient online portal to connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities and projects all around the island and allows Deva and Lysa to hone entrepreneurial experience as well as honor their beloved country. In Deva’s case, she’s also honoring her mother who raised her on a steady diet of “dinner conversations revolving around community issues (diversity, poverty, education, etc)”. Needless to say, these conversations shaped Deva’s perspective in a profound way.
Deva’s first experience volunteering came in high school when she decided to teach dance (street, folklore, Latin, etc) at her school, Maria Immaculata Lyceum, and at various foster homes. The experience gave Deva the opportunity to share her passion and skills, while gaining quality time with people of all walks of life – people she might not have encountered otherwise. “The real learning came when we’d gather together after dance class… I was always left inspired to do more.” She also credits teaching with helping her develop more effective communication- and time management skills.
Deva stands by the fact that it’s the people she meets while volunteering that make the experiences so transformative, not only what she’s doing or teaching. Deva was particularly inspired by a woman she encountered while teaching male juvenile detainees in Tanzania: a volunteer teacher in her 60s who had suffered an accident that resulted in a prosthetic leg. Rather than victimizing and isolating herself, this woman found a way to harvest her adversity and set out to travel the world and spread her positive perspective. “The kids all looked up to her like a mother… she brought so much of herself to class.”
Equally transformative, Deva, herself, has benefited from people donating their time and skills in helping her accomplish her goals. While modeling in New York City, she happened to cross paths with a recent Yale University graduate from Saint Lucia, “I told him: I’m a model now, but I’d like to go to school… and I’d like to make it happen in the U.S.,” she says. He offered to help her set up a curriculum to practice the SAT (standardized college admissions test) and tutor her. No small task given that Deva had been out of high school for 3 years. She ended up studying at his house every day for 2 months, while juggling casting calls and part-time jobs. Her hard work paid off: she gained admission to Columbia University, one of the top schools in the world.
So what gives Deva the courage to embrace uncertainty and chase her dreams time and again? Well, for one thing: she knows what she wants and commits her mind, heart, and soul to her goals 120%. She remains humble and asks for help when she needs it. People who cross her path want to support her because they believe she will succeed. But she also realizes that “failure is a natural byproduct of courage and creates the best learning… I’m confident I’ll land on my feet sooner or later: I do whatever it takes to survive.”
And she’s not waxing poetic: aside from being a top student, dancer, international model and volunteer, Deva has held a part-time job since she was 12. She even self-funded part of her Columbia University tuition by modeling and working 2-3 part-time jobs (waitress, bartender, restaurant manager, etc) while in school.
Deva keeps herself busy and she’s not slowing down anytime soon. It seems the ‘burden’ of having all of the necessary ingredients to succeed is wanting to accomplish all of her goals… all at the same time. “I tend to put a lot on my plate… I think I’ll benefit from taking a few things off!” She’s currently working on balancing her interests and prioritizing her time and extremely grateful to close family and friends who support her and keep her in check.