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Volunteer Awareness Week

Dorothy - 24/06/2011

This week has a special significance for people in Christchurch where the recent earthquakes and aftershocks have made them particularly in need of the help of volunteers, especially in the hard-hit eastern suburbs.

After the September earthquake everyone became a volunteer, helping others in their family or neighbourhood and checking on their safety. After a short time the work of many people moved from individual effort into support of organisations like the Farmy Army (farmers working as volunteers), the Student Volunteer Army, and groups organised by staff of the Christchurch City Council.

Communication is a vital factor for groups wanting to mobilise volunteers.
Sam Johnson who organised the Student Volunteer Army used social media networks so successfully that he was invited to Japan to teach students there to use similar channels.

Volunteer organisations already in existence expanded their role and other groups took the initiative in providing community help. One group of retirement flats in the east of the city was without power, water and sewerage services for two days. The best they could do was to get water from a tanker parked nearby and use a portaloo. They had no electric heating and no hot drinks. When the power was finally restored there was no one there to cheer as all the residents had been invited to a soup lunch at a local church where the members had been able to make soup because they had a gas-fired barbecue!

Volunteers led by members of the Farmy Army went out with barrows and spades to clear away liquefaction from streets in the east. This was a dispiriting job as subsequent aftershocks produced more liquefaction. Many houses in the eastern suburbs were so seriously damaged that they have been identified as being in the red zone which means that the government will buy the properties.

The Baking Army is another force working to help lift the spirits of Christchurch people who have suffered loss of property or loss of confidence during the earthquakes. The group was founded by Chrislynn Soong, a Canterbury law and media student. 308 volunteers donated more than 16,000 baked treats to less fortunate people, especially stressed children. Like the Student Volunteer Army the Baking Army has raised support through a Facebook page.

Volunteer Awareness Week has aimed "to raise people, not money", and the huge amount of work done in the city shows that it has been a successful initiative.

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