Louis Brown has a big job on his hands. Photos by Craig
Louis Brown never thought he would speak in military
But when you find yourself mobilising and manoeuvreing an
18,000-strong volunteer army across a large
earthquake-damaged city for six days straight and counting,
it is about the only kind of talk that works.
The volunteers are mainly students - hence the title Student
Volunteer Army - but people from all walks of life have
turned up every day since the the quake struck.
The army is mobilised through a website.
Requests for help from earthquake-affected residents,
referrals from agencies such as Civil Defence and the
Christchurch City Council, as well as offers of assistance,
are registered online.
From there, requests and offers are matched.
Members of the the Student Volunteer Army in Christchurch,
Dunedin students (from left) Toby Holborow, Hannah Craig,
David Gawith (partially obscured), Nic Blumsky-Gibbs,
Hannah's mother Katherine Craig, of Christchurch, and David
Owen get back to work after a lunch break in Dallington
A team of 60 organisers are instructed via text on where
to go and what to do, and they in turn text various teams of
people to do jobs.
Mr Brown, a former Dunedin man, is the head organiser of the
army and the chief executive of the Te Wai Pounamu
foundation, a charity that aims to inspire young people to
volunteer and lead social action.
He was in his central city office when the earthquake struck.
As he left the central city he stopped to give CPR to two
One died, one lived.
He has had only had a few hours' sleep since then, but says
everyone is sleep-deprived.
"That is just how it is, but we'll need to stay happy so we
can provide a positive atmosphere and keep people energised."
The size of the response to the movement was more than he
ever would have expected or imagined, Mr Brown said.
It was now the most effective way for people in the city to
request or receive help, and it was being deluged with
"What you can see out there, that's only the tip of the
iceberg. The mood has gone from panic to, really, `we're in
this for a long time' and we really have to make optimum use
of the time we have these volunteers willing and able."
Although the volunteer army was mainly students, people from
all walks of life were joining now.
And the thousands of people tucking into donated lunches at
an eastern city park yesterday was testament to the community
spirit that has increasingly pervaded Christchurch since
The food was donated by local business and ordinary people as
far away as Dunedin.
That so many people of all ages and backgrounds had given up
their time and come to help the student army dig and scrape
roads and clear properties was a testament to an awesome
human spirit, Dunedin MP Metiria Turei, who joined the
shovelers working to clear the badly affected suburb of
"And this is stuff [liquefaction] is nasty. It's stinky, it's
heavy, it's a foot deep in some places. It's just really
While most volunteers appeared to be other Christchurch
residents, some people from further afield had turned up.
University of Otago student Toby Holborow said he and his
friends had family and other friends in Christchurch so they
scraped together as many shovels and wheelbarrows as they
could manage and travelled north to join the army for a few
days because it was something useful they could do.
"We weren't doing anything better in Dunedin."