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7 Aug, 2017 8:00am 3 minutes to read
Napier kohanga reo teacher Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia is breaking stereotypes in Miss Universe New Zealand. Photo/Supplied
By: Ruby Harfield
Ruby Harfield is a Hawke's Bay Today reporter
Napier's Miss Universe New Zealand contestant is in the lead to get immunity to the top 10.
Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia is one of 20 finalists from around the country to take part in the competition which culminates with a grand final in Auckland on Saturday.
Each contestant has taken part in a three-day "Stiletto Camp", an international retreat in Thailand and an entrepreneurial challenge as part of the journey.
The entrepreneurial challenge involved contestants raising money for Variety, the Children's Charity, as well as their own Miss Universe journey.
Miss Ihaia has raised more than $11,000 as part of the challenge which, so far, puts her in the lead and in the running to get immunity from the initial 20 to 10 elimination during the grand final.
The 19-year-old said she would find out soon but it looked likely that she would receive immunity.
"It's made me realise how much I can achieve, it's brought my whole community and my whole whanau together. I've been blown away by how much people have got behind it."
She raised money through a firewood raffle, a hangi, a gala, a formal dinner, mufti days at local schools and a sausage sizzle.
She also has raised more than anyone else in the entire competition's entrepreneurial challenge history with the previous top being $8,800.
Miss Ihaia left for Auckland yesterday for a week of rehearsals and judges interviews, which count for a large percentage of the overall result.
She first entered Miss Universe to break stereotypes for Maori women and inspire the female members of her family that they could do anything they wanted.
However, during the journey she realised that she also wanted to break the stereotypes of the pageant girl.
"There's a really big stigma of beauty pageants downgrading women but it's nothing like that."
Several businesses she went to for sponsorship did not want anything to do with her after finding out she was competing in Miss Universe New Zealand.
At first the kohanga reo teacher also thought that to win she would have to be tall, white and skinny but judges and organisers actually looked for people who could offer skills and were good ambassadors and role models, she said.
"You don't have to wear makeup everyday and wear high heels . . . you don't have to change to look like a certain person. I haven't changed, I still wear my gumboots.
"They've allowed me to be myself and hold on to my Maori heritage throughout the whole campaign.
"I just hope to win to encourage everybody that they can be themselves."
Last month the contestants spent a week on a retreat in Thailand where Miss Ihaia said she got to know the other finalists and had made lifelong friends.
"We all just clicked very well. It's not like what everyone thinks it is, we're not there to win the competition by bringing each other down.
"We've all put so much work into it, they're really lovely down-to-earth girls."
The overall result on August 12 is split 50-50, between the public vote which is conducted through each contestant's individual Facebook pages and the judges.
The winner will go on to represent New Zealand in the international Miss Universe competition next year.
The Grand Final will be streamed live via www.nextmissnz.com from SkyCity on August 12.
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