In the days immediately following the September 4, 2010 Christchurch earthquake, while the university's Ilam campus was closed to enable the buildings to be checked for structural safety, 21-year-old Sam Johnson started a Facebook event called the "Student Base for Earthquake Clean up”.
He invited friends to join with him in assisting local residents with non-lifesaving tasks, in particularly cleaning up soil liquefaction residue on the streets and gardens of the city.
SEE ALSO: New Look Christchurch
Johnson invited 200 friends to the event which soon grew to have over 3000 attendees and over 2500 volunteers contributing to the clean-up.
They became known as the Student Volunteer Army.
The SVA became a household name around New Zealand after the February 22, 2011 earthquake getting stuck into the clean-up all around the city.
Over the last 5 years, they’ve continued to volunteer most weekends in various community projects around Christchurch.
We talked to SVA President Alex Cheesebrough to hear all about what they’ve been up to.
Where is the Student Volunteer Army at now?
We've shifted from disaster response work to focusing on volunteering. We have an committee of 22 students and complete a volunteer project every weekend of the academic year.
How many are still involved?
Our membership base for 2015 was 1500.
How passionate are the individuals involved about Christchurch?
This is something that is difficult to answer but certainly volunteering in collaboration with other cool organisations which have popped up after the earthquake we hope should encourage people to be passionate about this city.
Why do you feel so many have rallied behind SVA and got involved?
Because when you volunteer you get more out than you put in. The fantastic club culture at University of Christchurch has also had a role to play in our success but essentially it boils down to people wanting to help and us facilitating those opportunities on a large scale.
What are some of the projects you are involved with now?
We have a bird habitat restoration project coming up as well as an intersection design project and a volunteering camp. Keep your eyes on our website to find out what upcoming events we have.
Looking back over the past few years, do you think it's been more than just a physical help you've offered the city, but also a lift in morale and community spirit around the place?
Definitely, the morale I would say has been the more important of the two arguably.
How much of an impact do you think the SVA has had in the rebuilding of the city?
I think changing the perception of students in Christchurch has helped but it is the positive nature of what we do in the local community that gives people hope.
What’s been the public’s response to the SVA?
Well very positive as there really isn't much to dislike about us or what we do!
What are the future plans of the SVA?
We want to grow our impact and active membership base and also focus on our new initiatives such as our in-schools programme, legacy project and practical academic volunteering experience initiative.
Keep a watch out for the legacy project being announced on February 22nd.
SEE ALSO: New Look Christchurch