Francesca Rausi, 5, has always loved the spotlight. Her mother, Michelle, a 44-year-old beauty therapist and semi-permanent technician with her own salon on the Mediterranean island of Malta, is encouraging her daughter to chase her dreams, knowing that Francesca’s ventures are helping raise awareness of Down syndrome in the process.
“Francesca was the first toddler with Down syndrome to take part in competitions,” Michelle told The Epoch Times via email. She has since modeled worldwide for various charity events and has won several titles. The little girl once got the opportunity to walk beside Madeline Stuart, the first professional model with Down syndrome, and most recently at Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine extravaganza.
“She even got a ‘like’ from the actor Dwayne Johnson [on social media],” said Michelle.
Michelle learned she was pregnant with Francesca on her 39th birthday, calling it, “the happiest day of my life.” Her baby girl was born on Oct. 14, 2015.
“After an amazing nine months carrying her, I still remember clearly that beautiful face,” Michelle recalled. “I felt like I knew her forever. I had an amazing experience giving birth and my husband helped me a lot.”
Learning that Francesca had Down syndrome was a shock, at first. “We felt the world is coming on top of us, but it was only for a day,” said Michelle. “The next day, me and my husband said, ‘Francesca is our blessing, and we are going to do everything for her to achieve in her life.'”
The family welcomed a camera crew into their home to give an interview for TV when Francesca was a toddler. Francesca was absorbed. “[She] wanted to see what they [were] doing, and we could see that she is going to like cameras,” said Michelle.
When Francesca turned 2, one of Michelle’s friends, a modeling mentor, encouraged the mom-daughter duo to attend a fashion show. “When she saw the catwalk she was so happy and so confident, and there we realized that this was something she wanted to do,” Michelle recalled.
Since that moment, confident Francesca has been a regular on the catwalk, walking in fashion shows, charity shows, and even competitions. She holds several titles, including Junior Top Model, Best Photo Model, Mini Miss Christmas 2019, Junior Cute 2020, Mini Miss Summer 2020, and Miss Junior Valentine 2021—which the most recent title added to her list of accolades.
On Nov. 8, 2020, Francesca won the Best Photogenic award at a socially-distant competition and even walked away with second place overall. Michelle shared photos on Instagram.
“I can’t explain the excitement I feel every time I see her so happy on the catwalk, she always puts tears in my eyes with joy,” said Michelle. “When Francesca sees the catwalk she will change into a model, and the happiness on her face is indescribable.
“What I really admire is that when she comes in from the catwalk she tells me, ‘Mum I’m so lucky,'” Michelle reflected. “She really appreciates everything.”
Besides capturing the hearts of her audience, Francesca has a very busy schedule that includes taking ballet, music, and drama classes. She is about to embark on gymnastics too. Additionally, Francesca attends a mainstream school with “typical children,” said Michelle, and is thriving.
The family is also actively involved with the Down Syndrome Association and regularly gives television interviews to create more awareness. Francesca is also an ambassador for “Wouldn’t Change A Thing in Malta,” an organization created to spread awareness and resources.
The aspiring child model also has a popular Instagram page, managed by her mom.
As a proud mom of Francesa who has achieved so much already, Michelle urges: “For all the people out there, try to get to know people with Down syndrome. You will learn a lot from them; they can be your best friends or your best colleagues.”
To other parents of differently-abled children, Michelle advises: “Live day by day, stop thinking what will happen when they grow up because you end up losing the moment.”
“Treasure every moment,” she said, “always work for their independence, and be ready for a beautiful journey.”