Friday, 15 April 2011

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Felicity Monk

This week Felicity Monk, Freelance writer and kiwi expat living in London, shares with us her moving account of February’s earthquake in Christchurch and what it’s like to be away when adisaster strikes at home.

An account of the Christchurch earthquake



February‘s 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand killed 172 people (though the final death toll is expected to be 181) and caused massive devastation to the country’s second-most populous city. Tens of thousands of homes are being demolished, too badly damaged to fix, most of the CBD is destroyed. The Cathedral, once Christchurch’s most famous landmark is now a crumbled, broken mess of bricks. Prime Minister John Key said that 22 February "may well be New Zealand's darkest day". Our small population means that just about everyone knows someone who has been affected by the earthquake.

From the other side of the world in my home in London, feeling very far away, I watched online news sites streaming raw footage of the chaos, which only grew more horrific in the hours and days following.

New Zealanders are known for many things: our adoration for rugby, our independence, our fondness for casual dress, and our friendly, egalitarian nature. But perhaps less obvious, though just as much a part of our collective identity, is our resilience, compassion, resourcefulness, and willingness to lend a hand when needed. It was these qualities that were on display from the moment the earthquake struck.

People opened their doors to complete strangers, newly homeless, offering them beds, food and clothing. New Zealand’s Civil Defence staff were inundated with calls from people offering to help in whichever way they could. Independent water tanker owners sourced water from farms and processing plants, joining with Fonterra to co-ordinate a fleet to deliver water to those in need. Diesel suppliers gave petrol. Armies of volunteer students in their thousands moved through the city, sweeping streets and building long-drop toilets in people’s gardens. Kiwis from all over the country donated money, food, toys and nappies. And now, while the immediate urgency has passed and there is talk of rebuilding, the focus is on ongoing fundraising events and appeals to help Christchurch businesses get back on their feet. The government estimates they will spend more than £4 billion pounds on rebuilding the city.

The response here in London has been similarly incredible. Eager to show support and solidarity, the number of kiwis keen to attend the memorial service held at Westminster Abbey last month was so great that the New Zealand High Commission ran a ballot to allocate the 2500 tickets for seats in the Abbey and nearby St Margaret's Church, where it was broadcast. Kiwi ex-pats organised a prayer vigil at Westminster Cathedral, which drew a crowd of more than 5000. Tickets to a benefit concert where London-based New Zealand bands played to a large crowd in Shepherds Bush, quickly sold out. A rugby match that was supposed to take place in Christchurch, home of the Crusaders, was shifted to Twickenham after the earthquake damaged the stadium, with £5 from every ticket sold going to the Red Cross earthquake appeal. And on and on. Since the earthquake, not a week goes by where there isn’t some kind of fundraiser being held.

It is said that the true measure of a person’s character is the way they behave in times of difficulty. I believe this expression can be extended to include a nation in crisis. And while it may be small comfort to those who lost loved ones in the earthquake, this tragedy has truly revealed New Zealanders at their finest. Never have I felt prouder to be a kiwi.

If you have a story of a nation’s response to crisis and would like to share your experiences with us please get in touch...

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