10 Jul 2017
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Ophelia Buckleton
Reporter, NZ Herald


Miss Universe New Zealand opens up about tough childhood that led her to help Kiwi kids

It's a bitter, wet winter's morning in South Auckland.

Classrooms sit half empty as kids without raincoats, jumpers, shoes and lunches are forced to stay at home, unable to brave the biting cold temperatures.

Farm girl turned beauty queen and now school teacher, Miss Universe NZ Tania Dawson, lives with this reality every day and says it's time to help children, like herself, who have gone without.

Dawson is a media and drama teacher at Southern Cross Campus, a decile one school in the heart of Mangere East.

"I see exactly what I went through growing up, with these kids," Dawson said.

"A lot of kids don't come to school because they don't have the uniform or the lunch to come to school. [Some] parents didn't send them to school and that is because a lot of people are ashamed not being able to provide that for their children.

"That largely impacts their learning at the end of the day."

Dawson has been doing her part by providing necessities to keep a child warm, happy and healthy through Variety's Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme and has been helping this year's Miss Universe NZ finalists do the same.

The 23-year-old grew up on a farm with her five siblings and attended Rosehill College in Papakura.

"Our family really struggled in terms of finance. Me and my siblings didn't have everything that other kids had and we all worked at a very young age," Dawson said.

Dawson got her first job when she was just eight at the livestock auctions in Pukekohe, to help make ends meet.

"A lot of the time me and my brothers did go to school without [lunch]. My friends' mothers used to pack extra lunch for them, to give to me," she said.

The school teacher entered the competition in 2016 to promote education and support children living in poverty with the help of Variety.

"I saw education as a way of creating a stable future for myself, to try and get [my family] out of what we were in when I was younger," Dawson said.

While she doesn't regret her upbringing, saying it helped build character, Dawson wants to make sure other children don't have to struggle.

She has been mentoring this year's 20 Miss Universe NZ finalists as they participate in the Entrepreneurial Challenge, which sees them raise money through bake sales, fashion shows and the like to support disadvantaged kids.

Half of the proceeds will go towards Variety's Kiwi Kid Sponsorship programme, to provide essentials that a child would otherwise go without such as clothes, shoes, stationery, warm bedding and medicine.

The other 50 per cent will help fund the contestant's journey to the final. The grand final will be held in August.

"At the end of the day, if these girls can manage to sponsor one child [each] ... that is 20 children's lives that can be changed," Dawson said.

There are currently 400 Kiwi kids on the waiting list to receive support from Variety.

Variety chief executive Lorraine Taylor said it was hugely inspirational a group of young women wanted to participate in an event that helps local kids.

"They are trying all manner of ways to get out into their communities and networks to fundraise for local children," Taylor said.

"We know that there are children who are going to school cold because they don't have closed in shoes, they don't have warm enough clothes, their parents can't afford their winter uniform. So it means that [sponsorship] actually starts to provide them equity, in that the children get to be just like their peers."

Miss Universe New Zealand has raised $105,000 for Variety's Kiwi Kids Sponsorship programme since 2013.

You can sponsor a child from $45 a month by signing up at

This article was published in the Herald on Sunday on 9 July 2017 and on Read the article and watch video on

You can change a child's life for good. Find out more about sponsoring a Kiwi kid in need to provide warm winter essentials they'd otherwise go without.