Members of Canterbury University volunteer army clean up mud on Feb. 24 in Christchurch.
The quake caused liquefaction of the ground. (Martin Hunter / Getty Images)
I am so impressed by the citizens of Christchurch, New Zealand. Almost one week ago, a massive earthquake hit their area. Deaths and damage abound. What amazes me is the spirit of community and service that has emerged from these hard-hit people.
Immediately after the earthquake, citizens with no training jumped in to help rescue and take care of the injured and dying. There are many stories of everyday heroes jumping and doing whatever they could to save the lives around them. Kieran McErlain saw a school yard full of children desperate with fear as the water rose to knee level around them. Though he had no responsibility there, he stayed and helped to calm the children.1 Reports mention students from a university-organized "army" of 10,000 who traveled into the damaged neighborhoods armed with shovels.3 They are shoveling out the liquefaction that has filled up so many yards and houses. They are helping to move cars stuck in the sludge. No one asked them to come. Instead, compassion moved them to help - and they found a way to do so.
The New Zealand Herald has published a list of companies that are distributing supplies to anyone who needs them. Again, no one asked. These businesses just saw the need and took the initiative to do something. Local bakeries are cleaning up their own buildings, firing up their ovens and baking bread and distributing it for free. Grocery stores are giving away food and medicine.
"Growers from around the country are offering fresh food donations, church groups are donating goods to those in need and Food and Grocery Council members are also working to get donated food to the people of Christchurch." 4
Neighbors are taking care of each other by feeding each other, and watching over one another.
"They are sleeping under canvas in the backyard and look well-organised. Tables, a dozen chairs, the barbecue are set out. It looks inviting, an oasis amid the chaos. They and their neighbours have managed to salvage enough glasses and they get together each evening . . . while they cook meat from their defrosting freezers. Such neighbourliness keeps spirits up."1
Thousand of families in surrounding areas have opened their homes to the fleeing refuges. A call went out for help and so many responded. Even families with nothing to give are reaching out and helping each other. I read a story about a family that gave away their tent because they could fit their little family of four into a backyard playhouse instead.
"We had a tent put up, but we gave it to some friends up the road because their house was not good and they had nowhere to sleep that night," Richard Bruin told the Herald yesterday. "And then we moved into the playhouse. But it's safe, it's waterproof - unlike the house." 2
Other countries have also been quick to offer and send assistance. Rescue teams arrived as quickly as they could travel and are helping still with the recovery effort. Donations are quickly accumulating and will be used to help many of the now homeless and hungry.
There is such a spirit of love and sharing instead of greed and selfishness surrounding these people. I can only hope that we all will respond similarly when faced with any unexpected dangers in our lives.
1 - New Zealand Herald - On two wheels through the rubble
2 - Christchurch earthquake: Playhouse becomes shelter for family
3 - Christchurch earthquake: Students form volunteer army
4 - Christchurch earthquake: How you can help
5 - Christchurch earthquake: Food companies swing in to deliver supplies