From prison to beauty pageant

updated By Taroi Black

Evarna Koia, a former meth addict who was imprisoned for theft, has turned her life around helping other wāhine Māori in Rotorua. Tonight, she will compete in the Miss Rotorua 2019 beauty pageant.

“This means the world to me,” says Koia.

Born in Hamilton and raised in Rotorua, she is one of 13 contestants taking part in the only beauty pageant run and owned by Māori which aims to inspire youth to become future leaders in the Bay of Plenty.

Miss Rotorua 2019 contestants.  Photo/Facebook

Koia became a substance abuser at 14, as a result of moving from house to house growing up.

“I became addicted to methamphetamine. I was seeking for belonging by hanging out with friends who also consumed drugs.”

“At 15 years, I ended up in youth prison. I was committing crime, stealing and drug dealing.”

Four years later, she was imprisoned for motor vehicle theft. However, Koia would dramatically change her life after attending Sunday church in prison.

After her release, Koia became a member of Destiny Church in Auckland, alongside her older sisters. She returned to her hometown of Rotorua, where she became a facilitator for the Legacy programme run by Destiny Church which aims to empower women.

“We run topics weekly around dysfunctional systems that affect wāhine Māori. It is a 15-week programme, which also highlights forms of depression.”

Now, 21, Koia will compete in the 2019 Miss Rotorua beauty pageant that also features her performing with Māori weaponry.

“I was never a kapa haka kid but my friend Hinerongonui Kingi taught me how to use a patu for my performance. The patu is shaped like a fish which depicts its movement, like swimming against strong currents.”

Evarna Koia meeting with people living homeless.

“The experience has been some sort of self-discovery, learning how to have good relationships and, most importantly, reaching out to whānau who are homeless through my charity 'Vision of the Helping Hand',” says Koia.

Miss Rotorua 2019 pageant organiser Kharl Wirepa told Te Ao Māori News Koia reached out to him to participate in the event to help other rangatahi Māori who are searching for a purpose. 

“Miss Rotorua is Māori owned and operated and is the only pageant that accepts women of all creeds," says Wirepa. 

The contestants will be judged by a star-studded line up, such as Jess Tyson who represents New Zealand in Miss World,  Harlem Cruz who was New Zealand’s Miss Universe in 2017,  Naz Khanjani from The Bachelor NZ, social media figure (Kairua) Patrick Salmon and Fiona Talton who is an ambassador for the Endangered Species Foundation of New Zealand.