Learning from Earthquakes: First person reports

Youth Take the Lead

March 16, 2011 by
Filed under EERI Team Field Blog, Social Impacts

Today the social science team conducted two extraordinary interviews—the first was with Sam Johnson, the leader of the University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army (SVA), and the second was with Tasha Pinkney, a first year student and SVA volunteer.

The SVA first organized after the September 2010 earthquake. Nearly 2,500 students and community members volunteered to help remove liquefaction after that event. Looking back, Sam realized that this was an important “dry run” for the massive spontaneous volunteer operation that he and a core group of other dedicated individuals would coordinate in February and March of this year.

Since February, well over 12,000 individuals (about 90% of whom are university students) have volunteered to support the SVA response and recovery efforts. A large number of additional individuals have contributed financial and material resources.

The SVA is entirely student organized and student led, and has been coordinated almost exclusively through the SVA Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/StudentVolunteerArmy#!/StudentVolunteerArmy?sk=info). The social networking site has played a critical role in the success of this movement, and according to Sam, “the SVA could not have functioned without Facebook.”

Each morning, nearly 1,000 young people would arrive at the “Big Top” tent on the University campus. They would have to sign in for the day, then listen to a safety briefing. Soon thereafter, the students would board one of 25 red charter buses waiting to take them to the hardest hit areas of the city.

The students completed a number of critical tasks (and well over 3,000 separate work orders), including:

-shoveling silt from residential areas

-removing bricks and other debris for residents

-distributing pamphlets door to door and business to business with emergency services information

-delivering chemical toilets (“portaloos”)

-unpacking containers of donated supplies

Affected residents can contact the SVA through their webpage and/or via Sam’s email and ask for assistance. The SVA has also provided human-power at the request of Civil Defense and other response agencies.

College students often get a bad rap. But, as Sam and Tasha both noted, “youth can be a real asset to disaster recovery.” Indeed! It is clear that young people have considerable strengths that can serve as a significant resource for families, communities, and organizations attempting to respond to and recover from disasters. Children and youth’s knowledge, creativity, energy, enthusiasm, and social networks can—and should—be utilized during all phases of the disaster life cycle.

For more information on the capacities of children and youth in disaster, see: Peek, Lori. (2008). “Children and Disasters: Understanding Vulnerability, Developing Capacities, and Promoting Resilience.”

Children, Youth, and Environments 18(1): 1-29.




Feel free to leave a comment...

You must be logged in to post a comment.