The Student Volunteer Army: Helping Hands
The Student Volunteer Army (SVA) was formed as a response to the devastating Christchurch earthquakes. Now, 10 years on, the SVA provides a way for people of all ages to give back to their community. When Covid-19 hit, the team at SVA started a nationwide contactless delivery service, aimed at helping New Zealand’s most vulnerable. We spoke to SVA founder, Sam Johnson, about the benefits of volunteering and how you can get involved.
The SVA was born out of the Christchurch Earthquake of 2010. Can you tell me a bit about your motivations behind it?
We saw a need and wanted to help. Students had a dreadfully bad name pre-Christchurch earthquakes, well known for couch burning and pushing over rubbish bins while “binge drinking.” SVA was a collective response to this showcasing the strength of young volunteers.
How did the SVA respond to Covid-19?
The SVA was born out of a crisis, and we’ve spent a lot of the past decade working in the disaster space – so it felt only natural that we should do something to help when the pandemic hit. With the help of some very talented Kiwi tech entrepreneurs who were returning to New Zealand, and a partnership with New World, we created a nationwide contactless grocery delivery service from scratch in less than two weeks! We were blown away by the number of volunteers signing up to help, and thanks to them thousands of grocery items were delivered during lockdown, and beyond. Many of those that needed help weren’t comfortable with shopping online, so we also had a team of volunteers answering the phones, taking orders that way.
The stories I heard were incredibly moving. One that particularly struck me was an elderly gentleman living in a motel, whilst undergoing cancer treatment with no family nearby. He became tearful when describing what it feels like to be the one receiving help from a complete stranger with no questions asked. He felt so proud of the young people volunteering. We are still running the service for anyone who needs us, so please pass it onto to your friends or family.
How does volunteer work benefit the students and young people that get involved? Why is it so important to mobilise and educate our future generations?
There are lots of reasons why young people decide to volunteer, but often it is about making friends, feeling connected, and having a purpose. Our organisation is as much about the person volunteering as we are about the act of volunteering that they do. We do a lot with schools to empower young people to teach them how to help their community: it boosts their self confidence, grows their experience and hones their skills to better equip them for the future. We’re all about giving everyone the tools to solve problems in their own backyard.
Beyond your youth engagement programmes with primary to tertiary students, how can people get involved and/or give back through the SVA?
SVA is a charity and we survive on the donations we receive to keep on recruiting, training and supporting young volunteers at all stages of their journey. We recently started our Wheelbarrow Club for those that are able to donate monthly, and it’s a hark back to the days of the earthquake when green wheelbarrows were the tools that enabled our work. We’d love for you to donate if you can.
If you are in New Zealand and have some time to give we welcome volunteers of all ages (not just students!) – you’re welcome to get in touch [email protected].
Now that you’re reaching the 10 year mark, what has been your proudest achievement with the SVA so far, and what’s on the horizon?
There have been many wonderful moments over the past decade; with thousands of incredible people pitching in to contribute to the SVA movement. Personally, I am really proud of our primary school and secondary school programmes that engage 65,000 young kiwis each year as volunteers.
Looking forward, we’re currently piloting a ‘Tech Friends’ initiative, to pair young volunteers with older people that need assistance and setting-up SVA clubs all around Aotearoa so that tertiary aged students can be supported to set up projects wherever they are. And, our ‘SVA for Kids’ Primary School Program continues to grow.
Follow us on social media to find out more, or drop me a line to find out how you can get involved with the SVA – we’re a movement of passionate people, and we’d love to have the Kea network involved.
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