Four years ago at the age of 18 Maike van Niekerk set out on a bike ride across the province to raise money to help cancer patients with their travel expenses.
The money she raised was used to start Katrin’s Karepackage, a non-profit organization named in honour of her mother, Katrin Kohler, who died of breast cancer when van Niekerk was 15.
The organization works in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society and provides a $10 gas card for every 100 kilometres of travel for cancer related appointments.
It was her mother’s experience that showed the young girl who grew up in Corner Brook and Massey Drive the hardships that others often face when diagnosed with cancer.
“Although I set my hopes up to raise $30,000 when I biked across Newfoundland I didn’t think that it was a super realistic expectation,” she said.
She expected to raise a few thousand dollars, but rode away with $35,000.
In the time since she’s expanded Katrin’s Karepackage to Nova Scotia, where she studied nursing.
“Now to look back, four years later we’re in two provinces and we’ve raised over $130,000. I think that’s pretty incredible.”
A Rhodes Scholar, currently in the first year of a three-year PhD program in psychiatry at Oxford University in England, van Niekerk is trying to make sure the organization remains sustainable and find unique ways to fundraise for it.
Recently she found a way to do that when she applied for and was named an honouree in the L’Oréal Paris Canadian Women of Worth Grant Award Program. The program celebrates women volunteers who find beauty in giving back.
Van Niekerk said someone tagged Katrin’s Karepackage in a Facebook post about the program because they thought it may be a suitable candidate.
She’s the only Atlantic Canadian in the mix of the 10 Women of Worth selected to go forward in the program.
And that honour comes with a $10,000 award.
She thinks the fact that Katrin’s Karepackage is addressing a local need that is often overlooked is what earned her the honour.
“There’s so many cancer patients in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia who have a low socio-economic status and so they can’t pay to get to their treatment centres, and also many of them are just living in really rural areas that are far away from treatment centres.”
The $10,000 award will be split equally between the branches in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
But there is a chance that both branches could receive a full $10,000 each as one of the 10 honorees will receive an additional $10,000 award to further support her charitable work.
The national honoree will be selected through an online vote the details of which can be found at https://womenofworth.lorealparis.ca/en.
Van Niekerk said the vote is an amazing opportunity for people to get involved in a really easy way.
“One click a day for 12 days, if we are able to do that across Newfoundland and across Nova Scotia that’s $10,000 raised.”
The Women of Worth honorees will be celebrated at an awards gala in Toronto on March 8 — International Women’s Day.