Student Power: The Big Clean Up with Volunteer Hands



Caitlin Symes, SVA’s student volunteer. (Photo Supplied)

Dr Malini Yugendran

Auckland, 7 February 2023

The recent flood in West Auckland has brought out the best in the community, especially the students of New Zealand. The Student Volunteer Army (SVA), a well-known student-led organisation, has stepped up to help the affected communities with disaster relief and recovery services.

Accolades for SVA

The Henderson/Massey Local Board’s deputy chair, Brooke Loader, praised the SVA’s efforts. “I called SVA the day after the disaster, and right away, 50 students came to help, and then another 100, and the numbers continued going up,” she said in an interview with Indian Newslink. “We now have had more than 1400 who have come forward to help out in the flood relief works,” she said.

Phil Twyford, MP for Te Atatū, praised the organisation for its work, stating, “It has been great working with SVA on the flood response in West Auckland over the last week. They are so capable, professional, and well organized.”

The Student Volunteer Army reporting to help with the Big Clean Up at Starling Park area. (Photo RNZ – Jordan Dunn)

Student Volunteer

SVA’s student volunteer, Caitlin Symes said, “These people had their lives changed in the span of a few hours, some of them might be angry, hurt, or not want to talk to us and that is totally understandable, and we need to do our best to help them through this traumatic event.”

Indian Newslink asked her to elaborate on the kind of work she has done as part of the flood relief.

“We have to help people clean out their houses and yards, moving furniture out and ripping up carpet, digging away the contaminated mud and doing a general community clean up. I was tired,  but seeing the damage first-hand put everything into perspective and I knew I had to do as much as possible to help the community,” she said.

It is all hands on deck with Phil Twyford, MP for Te Atatū, on the grounds helping families. (Photo Facebook)

Equipping for the task

Ms Symes said. “Before going door to door in the affected suburbs, we received training on door-knocking etiquette, appropriate responses, what to do and not to do as well as safety.” Equipped with PPE, gloves, and masks to safeguard the volunteers the SVA team starts its day as early as 7 am. In order for residents to recognise the volunteers when they approach the houses, they show up wearing t-shirts with the SVA logo printed on them and lanyards.

Mr Twyford told Indian Newslink, “the SVA’s efforts have been well received by the affected communities. One family in Ranui was particularly grateful for the help they received from the SVA volunteers. The family’s home flooded 18 months ago. They have spent the last year and a half rebuilding the interior of their home, only to have it wiped out again last week, the flood waters a metre high in the house this time. I took a team of volunteers to see them, and we spent a few hours carrying heavy furniture, a fridge and a drier out of the house,” Mr Twyford explained.

Brooke Loader, the Deputy Chair of the HendersonMassey Local Board checking in on residents affected by the flood. (Photo Facebook)

The family said, “We are beyond grateful to the team that turned up this morning. You guys actually made the sun come out in our lives for a little while and you will never fully understand the difference it made for us. Thank you is not enough, but you have mine.”

Sam Johnson, the SVA’s founder, established the organisation in an effort to engage students in city clean-up following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes. The flood relief efforts are their largest gathering for a disaster outside of Christchurch.

Ms Loader said that the SVA together with other volunteer organisations not only helps with the clean-up but also with medical and insurance support.

Jana Hood, the CEO of the SVA, says that the volunteers also check on people previously spoken to and offer alternative services if the services they need are not met.

Flood-related waste being transported to a landfill. (Photo Facebook)

The Aftermath

The situation in Auckland is slowly improving in the aftermath of the recent floods.

The Red Cross reports a steady decrease in the number of evacuees seeking shelter in Auckland’s Civil Defence Evacuation Centers. At the Kelston Center, 49 individuals were staying on Wednesday, but on Friday, just 31 remained.

Now, the emphasis is on assisting people in locating the necessary support they require upon returning home or relocating.

Statistics

According to Auckland Emergency Management, close to 900 households asked about emergency accommodation and over 3300 had requested assistance as of Friday.

A total of 4500 rapid building assessments have been conducted and 26 road closures are still in effect.

According to Ms Loader, more than 70% of homes have already been contacted in the past week alone. “Our efforts are ongoing, and we will also be conducting hygiene response sweeps,” she said.

The RNZ reported that 1940 flood-damaged vehicles have been collected and 500 tons of flood-related waste have been taken to a landfill from 118 skips across the city.

Despite some initial challenges, all affected properties have had their water restored.

50 homes remain without power.

Ms Loader expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support from people across the country who have come to assist the residents of Auckland. She remarked, “It has been encouraging to see individuals travelling from all across the nation to assist Auckland residents with the response and recovery. The Student Volunteer Army, neighbourhood residents, businesses, and our various community organisations are all crucial sources of assistance and support for individuals impacted by this natural disaster. Huge credit goes to all.”

Mr Vincent Satyanand Naidu, a member of the Waitakere Ethnic Board (Photo Facebook)

Mr Vincent Satyanand Naidu, a member of the Waitakere Ethnic Board who is also the resource and support person for community groups in West Auckland said, “They are the helping hands, source of support, consolation, and reassurance to those affected by the flood, the local community, and the country as a whole. They are examples of the kind and compassionate people we are all best at being.”

Ms Symes summed up her experience as such, “My biggest takeaway from volunteering is how a generous community can overcome anything. For me, the west Auckland community has always had a special place in my heart, and seeing everyone come together is incredible. People are ready to give the clothes off their backs for flood-affected houses, and even families who have been devastated by January’s floods are asking what they can do to help others. The rebuild and clean-up process will be long and messy, but we can get through it.”

Resources for the latest information:

Watercare and power

Watercare Information can be found on their website.

Power information can be found on Vector’s website for outage and restoration times.

Report flood damage

To report damage to drains, or stormwater issues, please log your issue online.

Financial Assistance

Visit the Work and Income website’s “Urgent or Unexpected Expenditures” page or contact Work and Income at 0800 400 100 from 8 am to 5 pm.

Mental Wellbeing

Call Healthline at 0800 611 116

Free-call or text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor, or

In an emergency, dial 111.

Homeowners’ Advocacy

For help in navigating insurance claims related to damages caused by flooding. Reach out to info@advisory.org.nz or call 0800 777 299, 03 379 7027.

Tenancy Information

Tenants can call 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262).

Disabled People

Disabled individuals who have been affected by the flooding can check for updates on the Facebook page: Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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