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Canterbury’s seismic lessons ripple across the globe

Canterbury’s seismic lessons ripple across the globe

Associate Professor Billy Osteen, Director of the University of Canterbury Community Engagement Hub, offered to help colleagues at Rice University, Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. They’re now considering the CHCH101 course for the 2000 US students who have been volunteering in the hurricane’s aftermath. Here, he discusses how UC has been paying it forward in post-disaster areas across the world.

The University of Canterbury Student Volunteer Army’s proactive response to the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes led to the creation of CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch, an academic course where students could reflect on their service. This included studying citizenship, post-disaster response and volunteering. In six years, the course CHCH101 has evolved to include community service, has partnered with more than 30 Christchurch organisations, and has been taken by over 1000 students. While the course’s focus is on the post-quake Christchurch context, we’ve seen its impact ripple around the world.

Hurricane Irene in 2011

In August 2011, the upper east coast of the United States was struck by Hurricane Irene causing significant damage, power outages and flooding. The area around the University of Vermont was hit hard and students immediately went out to help with the clean-up.

American UC alumnus Dr Lane Perry (whose doctoral thesis was on service-learning and student engagement) and I contacted a colleague there and shared the course outline of CHCH101. She immediately took it, adapted it, and offered the course two weeks later when the next semester started.

Illinois tornado outbreak 2013

In February 2013, US study abroad student Jessica Weston came to UC from the University of Illinois-Champaign and took CHCH101. For her final project, she proposed to set up a Student Volunteer Army group at her US university. Several months later, in November 2013 much of Jessica’s hometown of Washington, Illinois, was destroyed by a category F5 tornado. An hour away in Champaign, Jessica went into action and started a ‘fill the truck’ campaign where needed items are donated with the goal of filling up a tractor trailer. She was so successful that she filled up two trucks.

Jessica credits CHCH101 as the reason for this success, saying it empowered to help her hometown when disaster struck.

“My volunteering studies at UC allowed me to understand the value of volunteering and inspired me to seek volunteer opportunities beyond the classroom and my time abroad,” she says.

“I walked away from CHCH101 a better person for many reasons. I fully understood the power young adults can have in their communities and in disaster relief efforts. I understood how to take my talents and passions and contribute them to a greater cause. The community experience also showed me how to be a leader and collaborate with others which was very transferable to my career.”

Hurricane Harvey in 2017

Last month, soon after Hurricane Harvey passed through the Houston area, we were in touch with colleagues at Rice University to share the CHCH101 course model and accompanying resources. It was a timely connection as they were in the process of considering an academic response for the 2000 students who were out providing immediate relief. Rice University found our information and experiences particularly helpful and we are now collaborating with them as they get further along in the process.

In the days following the 2011 Canterbury earthquake, we were in touch with Tulane University in New Orleans which had created a way for its students to be part of the post-Katrina rebuild efforts. It is now exciting to build upon that and serve as a resource for others in post-disaster settings. Reaching out to other universities is especially satisfying as we are paying forward the help we received from colleagues around the world when we were designing CHCH101 and progressing community engagement across the UC campus.

By Dr Billy Osteen, Associate Professor of Community Engagement, Director of the UC Community Engagement Hub, University of Canterbury


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