May 17, 2013
Today, our group really got to experience and witness some of the devastation that Christchurch has been dealing with for the past two years after the earthquakes. First, we met up with the leader of the Student Volunteer Army that banded together after the first earthquake in 2010 to help clean up the rubble in houses, neighborhoods, and cities. They were students that had their university closed for three weeks after the earthquakes and their first reaction was “what can we do to help our city?”, and this was their solution. They used Facebook to get a group together and just showed up at people’s doorsteps asking if they could help get the liquefaction out of people’s backyards. They were emotionally moved by how joyful these families were to have these college students just doing what they could to help strangers. Unfortunately, the students returned to classes when university was back in session and the number of volunteers decreased but some of them, such as our leader Jason, continued working. He also went into how the government tried to intervene, but ultimately they were left to their own devices to continue helping the people affected by this natural disaster. I thought it was extremely empowering to hear about a young group of people our age taking such initiative to help their city and complete strangers out in a time of need.
Our project this morning was tearing down a fence in a Red Zone Residential area that is built on swamp/marsh land that they government has foreclosed many of the houses due to structural damage. They will use many of the materials for other projects rebuilding around the city. They recruit volunteers to donate their time so that the government doesn’t have to pay wages for people doing work such as this. It was good to know we were helping the city out instead of just standing idly by.
After the project, we met at a gap filler project in town. Gap fillers are basically areas where the locals have created a fun little activity or place of hope (usually an artsy or creative idea) in a place where a building used to be located to fill the gaps. This one specifically was a pavilion made out of pallets with a stage, bathrooms, tables and chairs, etc. inside. It even had free wifi!
Then, we took a tour on a 1947 double decker bus from London! It came from England after the first earthquake and the owner Debbie took it and delivered hot chocolate to various places all over town. The bus became a beacon of hope for the residents left in devastation after the earthquakes. We rode it out to Sumner Beach and around the city center. We even got to drink their special Belgium hot chocolate. It was delicious, especially in cold, rainy weather!
After the tour, we went to a “bar” that was hosted in a series of old buses. It reminded me of Taco Bus in St. Pete/Tampa. The also served food and we got delicious burgers. I’m not sure if they make them differently in New Zealand or if it was just that place, but they were very good! I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon for burger places to put a beet on their burgers.
Our day started early and ended late, which has helped regulate our body clocks and help with jet lag. Goodnight!