With compassion and commitment their most powerful weapons, the Student Volunteer Army is the 2012 Anzac of the Year.
The Student Volunteer Army, utilising brains and brawn, created a legion of volunteers to help a community in need, providing a shoulder to shoulder service alongside the many New Zealand service organisations that willingly, and commendably, rose to the call with the spirit of volunteering, beyond normal obligation, that came to the fore following the Christchurch earthquakes.
This band of students and volunteers took on the forces of nature with a combination of today’s technology and the good old Kiwi spade, displaying in bucket loads the spirit of comradeship and commitment at the very heart of Anzac. Their selfless service in a positive and compassionate manner is exemplified by the way students abandoned their studies, time and time again, after each new liquefaction event.
The Student Volunteer Army was initiated by University of Canterbury student Sam Johnson. Following the 7.1 magnitude Christchurch earthquake on 4 September 2010, Sam set up the Student Volunteer Army Facebook page where students could find information about how to volunteer. In the two weeks following the earthquake, the Student Volunteer Army organised placement, transport, food and support for over 2,500 volunteers. Focusing on low risk areas during the immediate response period, they helped cleared over 65,000 tonnes of liquefaction.
After the devastating 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011, the Student Volunteer Army was deployed again, but with even greater efficiency and effectiveness to successfully dispatch thousands of volunteers within a three week period. As well as the mass-deployment of volunteers to deal with liquefaction, working with contractors and others to clear over 360,000 tonnes in over 75,000 volunteer working hours, the wellbeing of residents was also a focus, offering hot meals, clean water and coordination for resources and services that otherwise may not have been used. The Student Volunteer Army also supplied and managed operations for various organizations including multiple government departments, Civil Defense, and the City Council, delivering chemical toilets and information pamphlets, laying sandbags, staffing data entry and manning call centers. Their Facebook page had over 26,000 followers by March 2011, acting as a platform to organize and coordinate volunteers and non-skilled laborers in Christchurch together with internet based mobile management technology.
The Student Volunteer Army continues to help those in need of assistance. In April 2011, Sam Johnson and Jason Pemberton, Student Volunteer Army Team Leader, travelled to Tokyo to set up a Japanese version of the Student Volunteer Army, made up of university students in areas hard hit by Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami.
Clean up operations were also run following the June earthquake in partnership with Federated Farmers ‘Farmy Army’, and the Student Volunteer Army operated a volunteering center in December, again using the 'tools in their pockets' such as Facebook, Google Maps and Gmail to coordinate hundreds of volunteers from across Canterbury.
The Student Volunteer Army now has a charitable trust focused on relevant youth volunteering in New Zealand and learning from the disaster experience, while the University of Canterbury club continues to provide opportunities for students to play an active role in Christchurch's recovery.
The Student Volunteer Army provides a positive perception of our contemporary youth. These young students typify a generation that values loyalty, meaningful work and shared purpose, echoing the spirit of Anzac born at Gallipoli through the activity of young men of the very same age. The endeavors of young New Zealanders to help others, turning a legacy of a time of crisis into their routine daily life, provides an example we can all look to, showing that comradeship, courage, compassion and commitment are values that are still very much part of our psyche. The actions of the Student Volunteer Army confirm that the spirit embodied in the tradition of Anzac is truly alive in New Zealand today.