'She's proven that anything can happen' - Former prisoner wins Miss Rotorua

By Te Ao - Māori News

A young woman, who was a former methamphetamine addict and has been imprisoned for theft, has been crowned the winner of Miss Rotorua 2019.

Evarna Koia, of Ngāti Maniapoto, has since turned her life around helping other wāhine Māori in Rotorua and with a unique story to tell, she’s sure to inspire others in her community.

"I'm really grateful because I know in my heart that I honour my whānau,” she told Te Ao just moments after she was crowned.

Evarna Koia and her whānau. Photo/File

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, she says.

“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, her life started to change after attending Sunday church in prison.

Since her release, Koia has become 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.”

With her role as Miss Rotorua 2019, she hopes to inspire others to stay true to themselves.

“Don't ever feel afraid to let your truth shine no matter what you've been through, your deepest darkest things, she says.

“Once you let that truth shine, you just have this weight off your shoulders and you never know whose soul you can unlock, or who you can inspire by letting your truth free as well. So I say own your truth, own your story and be who you are.”

The beauty pageant is run and owned by Māori and aims to inspire youth to become future leaders in the Bay of Plenty. Contestants were judged in interview, talent, evening gown and question and answer.

“It’s helped me grow with confidence. It’s helped me understand who I truly am as a young wahine. It’s also helped me in my business skills connect to business people, our sponsors, the community, our charities, but more importantly its helped me become my most authentic self.”

Director Kharl Wirepa says he is proud of all of the contestants and believes Koia will make a difference in the Rotorua community.

“She's gone from prison to pageant and she's really proven that anything can happen and everyone deserves a second chance. It’s really unique with her, and I feel she can connect with so many different women [and] people on so many different levels.”

Koia says she will take a short rest before continuing her duty to inspire and support others.

“I've put a lot of commitment and hard work into these last few months, but I plan just to enjoy life and keep being involved in a movement and groups that are connected to the people, like My Legacy.”

 List of winners of Miss Rotorua 2019

Miss Rotorua 2019 Evarna Koia

Miss Rotorua 2019 Runner Up Kiara O’leary

Mrs Rotorua 2019 Kristal Pehi

Mrs Rotorua 2019 Runner Up Cinice Karauria

Miss Te Arawa 2019 Aimee Wolfgram

Miss Te Arawa 2019 Runner Up Ocean Cashell

Miss Teen Rotorua 2019 Chloe Winton

Miss Teen Rotorua 2019 Runner Up Emma Audus

Miss Face of Beauty Rotorua 2019 Hannah Audus

Miss Community 2019 Aimee Wolfgram

Miss People's Choice 2019 Aimee Wolfgram

Miss Congeniality 2019 Cinice Karauria