What do a 10-year-old Kerikeri girl and a Vietnamese spiritual guru with a worldwide chain of vegan restaurants have in common? The answer, it seems, is a love of animals.
That shared love has paid off handsomely for a cash-strapped Northland animal charity that, thanks to 10-year-old Kerikeri girl Anika Beren, has received a whopping US$10,000 ($13,600) donation.
It all began during the Covid-19 lockdown, when Anika began growing native trees from seed for Springbank School's market day. Her plan was to sell the seedlings for $10, and donate the proceeds to Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, a volunteer group that rehomes hundreds of mistreated, abandoned and unwanted pets every year.
Market day was twice postponed due to Covid-19, but Anika carried on undeterred. Her scheme morphed into a business she called Amuri Gardens, after her grandfather's home village in the Cook Islands.
In September she donated the profits from her initial sales, $1570, to the Kawakawa-based animal rescue group.
The story about Anika's fundraising efforts was followed up by the Cook Islands News, and then somehow caught the attention of Vietnamese-born Ching Hai, the founder and Supreme Master of a spiritual movement with a reported two million followers.
Hai is now based in Taiwan, from where she runs a fashion company, a global vegan restaurant chain and a television channel broadcasting feel-good news stories 24 hours a day. She also hands out regular awards to people doing good deeds, especially if they involve helping animals.
Anika's mum, Mignon Zwart, said Hai's New Zealand representative contacted Springbank School, asking to be put in touch with the family. A series of emails followed, in which Hai's staff explained they wanted to give US$10,000 to Anika's chosen charity.
''I thought it couldn't be serious. I wondered if it was legit,'' she said.
However, the prize money, which converted to $13,600, promptly turned up as promised, followed by a parcel packed with books, a framed certificate and a glass trophy inscribed with Shining World Compassion Award and Anika's name.
A letter explained that Supreme Master Ching Hai had been touched by the story about Anika's fundraising efforts, and wanted to make a ''loving contribution... to support her noble cause.''
Anika was, to put it mildly, surprised by the award.
''I didn't know what to think. I feel a bit overwhelmed, and proud," she said.
Her original aim had been to sell 100 trees and raise $1000, but, including the award, Bay of Islands Animal Rescue is now more than $15,000 better off.
Anika said it would be nice to have the prize money, but the volunteer group needed it more than she did.
Summer Johnson, founder of Bay of Islands Animal Rescue, could not be contacted, but Zwart said the donation had left her speechless.
Grandfather Arthur Beren, who showed Anika how to gather seeds and raise seedlings, said he was ''unquestionably proud.'' He was also grateful to Northland people and businesses who had supported Anika's fundraiser by donating pots, seeds and potting mix.