Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Student Volunteer Army widens range of targets

The president of the Student Volunteer Army Bridget Williams
The president of the Student Volunteer Army Bridget Williams

The Student Volunteer Army which sprang up from the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes has successfully switched from helping homeowners shovel liquefaction to sustainably serving the community, its president says.

The University of Canterbury's Student Volunteer Army (SVA) has targeted a range of service targets which president Bridget Williams says will benefit close-knit Christchurch communities.

Ms Williams will give a presentation at the first New Zealand Tertiary Engagement Summit at the University of Canterbury (UC) on August 30.

"We want service be part of the student lifestyle and empower students to be the change in their community," she said.

"In 2011, when the SVA swamped the streets of Christchurch to help remove the liquefaction, I was certainly inspired. I remember thinking; students cannot run this. Where's the group in charge? They were all in charge.

"Each person was an important cog in the SVA machine and right then and there I knew this was a movement I wanted to be a part of."

As the liquefaction was mostly removed, and the aftershocks eased off, most students felt the job was done.

Ms Williams, however, wanted the positive student engagement in the community to continue.

"This year we introduced a sustainable model, with structure and focused on service projects that bettered community in any way," she said.

"We implemented a new mission to make service be part of the student lifestyle.

"This is being achieved by our platoons, which align students with their interest values and skills making them feel like they have something to contribute.

This leads to empowering and will encourage them to keep coming back to volunteer, which will lead to it becoming a lifestyle thus our vision is eventually fulfilled.

"Engaging with a diverse cross section of society makes students realise the realities of life and makes them see how precious life is. The least we can do is give up some time of our day to help others in need."

Vincent Ilustre, executive director at Tulane University's Centre for Public Service in New Orleans, will be the keynote speaker at University of Canterbury's August 30 summit.


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