Like many I sat in my home on the evening of the 22nd of February stunned by the events of the day but felt blessed that I, my family and everything we had had been spared. When the earthquake struck I was in an Advanced Land Law lecture at Canterbury University. Like most it took me hours to get home, which we found to have been spared from the quake. That evening I was informed that a friends home in the Eastern Suburbs had been extensively damaged and so I decided that the next day he would go shovel in hand to help.
What I saw on that first day created a desire to help all those that I came across and made me ask the question ‘what else can I do to help?’ The group that I was with were fortunate to have the services of a Bobcat which gave rise to the idea which enabled me to assist hundreds of homeowners through the removal of thousands of tonnes of liquefaction.
Fortunate to have many friends, I called on each of them on the night of the 23rd of February, and asked for their help. The response was immediate with thousands of dollars being donated from friends in Auckland, Wellington and abroad.
Further to calling my friends I called the Head Offices of all the major hardware chains asking for supplies as that day I had seen elderly homeowners using buckets to clear liquefaction. The response I received was generous with the next morning spent collecting thousands of dollars worth of donated goods from Mitre 10, the Warehouse and numerous other retailers and then dispersing these to homeowners in the Eastern Suburbs.
With the funds received plus my own savings, I ignored my own financial situation, considering myself fortunate having recently moved from the central city to a new home on the outskirts of Christchurch believing that I would simply increase my mortgage to replace the monies he spent.
With an orange flashing light borrowed from the neighbouring farmer I led trucks carrying heavy machinery into the Eastern Suburbs. What started as a bobcat and a digger soon grew to four bobcats and four diggers whom at my direction for three weeks went house to house street to street clearing liquefaction at no charge with those residents offerering payment being flatly refused and contractors found charging for do the same work asked to leave. Word soon spread amongst the community of my efforts and as a result I received $70,000.00 comprising cash and diesel from Rotary International to further fund his endeavours.
Whilst the machines roared in and out of driveways I walked the streets accompanied by my colossal canine companion, Guinness the Irish Wolfhound aka ‘Earthquake Dog’ whose therapeutic value was soon recognised as most that they came across relished in the opportunity to discuss the dog rather than the earthquake with many children to the delight of their parents receiving their first ever dog ride.
In the evenings I would spend his time rallying more support. I remember seeing an elderly Chinese women using a bucket to remove liquefaction which gave me the idea to organise a wheelbarrow appeal in Auckland. I spoke with Pam Corkery on Newstalk ZB and appealed to Aucklanders to donate wheelbarrows – the response was overwhelming as within a week I received 225 wheelbarrows, 750 shovels, 150 assorted gardening tools, 2 tents, 1 leaf blower a toilet and 1100 bottles of water many of the items containing messages of support.
With the aid of a trailer I throughout the day and night gave away all of the items I received. I remember fondly coming across an elderly women scooping up water from the gutter to use for her roses. I managed to persuade her that the bottled water that I had would be much better and after convincing her that I had over 1000 bottles left the two of us took pleasure in watering roses with bottled water. I also met Hillary a lady I think in her 80’s who had no power was cold and had been using a bucket for a toilet for nearly two weeks. It was great that I managed to find a good home for the toilet that was sent to me from Auckland and that I was able to convince staff at Mitre 10 to go halves in a gas heater and bottle for which I left on the doorstep of Hillarys’ broken home.
Whilst most of the days were spent alongside my fellow students with my fleet of machines regarded as the ‘unofficial’ heavy machinery support for the Student Volunteer Army I recall the day that I received a call from the New Zealand Army who requested my teams assistance to support troops in Retreat Rd. I believe that I may be the only civilian that has provided heavy machinery support to both New Zealand Armys on domestic shores during a National State of Emergency.
I constantly tried to do more, and made a passionate plea to a friend in Auckland to help me stage a concert for the Student Volunteer Army in a tent in my back paddock which I believed that if I was able to get the right band I would be able to generate global exposure for Christchurch. My goal was for the concert to kick-start a viral campaign via the internet, with Christchurch as the focus. I asked my friend, Russ Wilkinson, past Deputy Chairman of Foodstuffs NI to get me U2, the response I received was ‘you’re crazy, but I happen to know Sir Michael Fay, I’ll ask him.’ Whilst this was a big dream and a long shot, but I remains proud that Sir Michael Fay in his words had ‘numerous discussions’ with his contacts at the U2 organisation. The idea was put to the band and they thought about it, that’s’ not bad for a 3rd year law student from Canterbury University.
After 2 weeks working 12 hours per day in the Eastern Suburbs and then at least 6 hours every night blogging and rallying others, the effects of exhaustion started to set in. I had been reluctant to accept food whilst working during the day preferring to wait until he got home as his fridge was fill and most I met could not use theirs. After 22 days working without rest I was admitted by friends to hospital so that I could recuperate. My stay in hospital lasted two weeks and whilst my body rested my mind did not.
Upon discharge I decided to travel to the North Island to personally thank all those that had assisted me in my efforts including those that had sent wheelbarrows with contact details in particular the kids at Glenbrook Kindergarten in Auckland who had painted and sent a wheelbarrow to Christchurch.
I had my car decorated ‘Christchurch is Broken – help us fix it’, packed ‘earthquake’ dog and a pot of liquefaction, strapped the Glenbrook Kindergarten wheelbarrow to the rear wheel and set off on a 10,000km journey.
Whilst in Auckland I attended an Entreprenuers workshop at Auckland University in order to obtain guidance for an idea that I had been developing since soon after the earthquake. I was advised at the workshop that this idea ‘HelpNZ’, was a Social Enterprise. The intention is for funds to be collected from which to subsidise the wages of skilled undergraduates for the benefit of Christchurch businesses that have been effected by the earthquake whilst continuing to foster the volunteer culture of Canterbury University students by having the students available to those that provide the funds to perform volunteer work at the donors direction. I believe that such an Enterprise would benefit students through work experience, businesses through affordable skilled labour, communities through volunteer work and the economy as students generally spend rather than save. Whilst HelpNZ is a work in progress I do have the ability to promote the idea worldwide as a friend has offered me space on the side of retail packaging for lightbulbs, the particular bulbs having sold in excess of 5,000,000 units worldwide in the past four years.
I further developed a partnership with NZ Pet Doctors, a national vet chain whom have been promoting the earthquake using imagery of Guinness. We are currently discussing the logistics of visiting schools to promote volunteering, earthquakes and animal welfare. The idea followed my attendance at Kerikeri High School and Russell Primary School where I shared my experiences with the children who had more questions about the dog that the earthquakes.
On hearing of the June Earthquake, I returned to Christchurch to once again assist the resident of the eastern suburbs and to wait for the reopening of University in 2012 so that I may continue my Law degree.
It has been a big year.