Helping Out in Christchurch

After an extensive week with the Nuffield clan it was a bittersweet end as we said our farewells at the Christchurch airport. I had told myself before leaving Canada that if given the opportunity to be in Christchurch and help out as a volunteer with earthquake relief, I would. And so I did.

It was evident from the start that the University of Canterbury, not far from downtown Christchurch, was off limits as a sea of red and white signs set a cautious parameter advising everyone that the campus was closed and no entry was permitted. I spoke to one of the security guards in asking direction to the Big Top; a place that had become well known as the meeting point on U of C campus to all +20,000 volunteers of the Student Army movement.

After connecting with the UCSA Student Volunteer Army via Facebook, then meeting team leader Andrew at the Big Top, I was beyond thrilled to be put to work for a good cause.

Our Mission: Sandbagging the sunken banks of the Avon River

Sandbagging Leader: Andrew Chalmers

Number of Eager Volunteers: 22

Estimated number of sandbags strategically positioned in 3 days: 7,523

Fun had, new friends made and keeping the expected high tide out of the city: PRICELESS

Pictures of the Volunteer Student Army hard at work.

With rising water tables underneath the city of Christchurch and the upcoming autumn high tide, specialists had come to the conclusion that the water flowing through the city would peak at 10.8 feet above sea level. Therefore the Avon River would have to have banks reaching minimum 11.3 feet above sea level. As a result of the earthquakes, many of these river banks had settled and if the walking paths had not completely vanished they were left severely cracked and uneven. For the most part contracting companies were rebuilding these banks but not all areas were equipment accessible. That’s where the Student Army came in.

On my first day of sandbagging I was happy to be outside and doing some hands on work. I was giggling however because for most of the morning I was packing more sand bag weight then most of the guys. I guess that was just the hard working farm girl coming out in me. By mid-day everyone needed an energy boost and as Sam Johnson joined us, it was refreshing to reenergize on pizzas, powerades and chocolate bars. The kiwis insisted that I try a Moro bar which I thought was pretty much the same as a Mars bar, still very good and how could I ever refuse the temptation of chocolate? Needless to say this burst of carbohydrates and sugar gave everyone the drive to finish the day early. Let’s just say that the sandbag delivery trucks had a hard time keeping up to our awesomeness!

Pictures of ‘The Press’ and the Student Army Crew.

Over those few days I experienced a humbled, most satisfying feeling. It is indescribably comforting to know that I had played a small role in making a difference for the people of Christchurch. When you see firsthand the falling brick fences, collapsed houses, broken glass, and drive on the roads that were once flat and even, you come to terms with the sorrow and heartache felt amongst so many. Although my stay here was only for a few short days, I found it to be truly inspiring in having the opportunity in getting to know the true leaders and positive change-makers of Christchurch.

Pictures of earthquake damage.

Sam Johnson wanted to make a difference. After the first earthquake last year he created a Facebook page and invited friends to join him in helping with relief efforts. This was the beginning of the UCSA Student Volunteer Army; a movement that will not doubt transform disaster relief programs around the world. As a highly ambitious and involved student, he quickly became the go-to guy with valuable contacts and an edge on leadership in directing an uncontrollable force of his next generation peers. I will forever treasure his friendship and laugh when I think of the time I tricked him in smelling the whipped cream in my dessert doughnut! His law degree may have to go on hold for now, but be sure that Sam Johnson will take the world by storm as he continues to influence and inspire all those around him.

Picture of my Hero! Sam & I.

Feel Free to check out our Video Release from The Press

http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/videos/4773124

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