Help for New Zealand: Christchurch Rebuilds
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Help for New Zealand: Christchurch Rebuilds

An update from the Salvation Army, to which Grand Circle made a $10,000 donation, and impressions from an OAT Trip Leader

Grand Circle Program Director Bob Wilkinson's home sustained some 150 cracks in Christchurch's February 22 earthquake—and with up to a dozen tremors still occurring every day, the cracks are growing continuously… along with his worry. He worries less about the odor that permeates the city streets, caused by food that was left to spoil within the shattered facades of butcher shops, restaurants, and fishmongers. In the grand scheme of the massive reconstruction efforts underway in Christchurch, clearing away the rotting meat is hardly a priority—and so it remains, providing sustenance for hundreds of screeching seagulls.

With the rebuilding moving slowly due to the persistent threat of aftershocks, the plight of Christchurch remains a fresh wound upon the nation's collective psyche. "Most people in our small country were affected personally," says OAT Trip Leader David Hill. "There were more than 180 dead, and many of us have friends and family living in the region." In addition to the challenges faced by his friend and colleague Bob Wilkinson, David recalls an 81-year-old friend of his who was badly shaken. "The shock scared her," he says. "It came in waves and knocked over her possessions—and, very nearly, her, too." She was fortunate to emerge physically unscathed—though not necessarily emotionally. "The initial quake brought the city to its knees. The latest have brought it to the ground," David says. "I feel bereaved, for the city and my friends."

Serving as ambassadors to New Zealand for hundreds of travelers each year, the Trip Leaders and Program Directors who lead trips for OAT and Grand Circle are known for being passionate about their homeland—so it's not surprising that following February's earthquake, they were among the most vocal about the need for support. After carefully considering where a donation could do the most good, Grand Circle Foundation donated $10,000 to the Salvation Army Canterbury Earthquake Appeal. Bob Wilkinson delivered the check personally.

Now more than four months after the magnitude-6.3 February quake—but just one month since the last serious aftershock, which, registering at 6.0, was almost equally devastating—we asked the Salvation Army for an update on their progress in Christchurch. In brief, they advised us of the following statistics, which were made possible by the tireless efforts of 920 relief workers and 500 volunteers:

  • 75,000 meals served to earthquake victims
  • 14,500 food parcels provided
  • 284 Care Break holidays (which provide transportation and accommodations outside the city for victims with serious emotional trauma) presented to Christchurch families
  • 1167 Care Cards pre-loaded with NZ$500 (to be used toward housing repairs, food, clothing, or other urgently-needed goods) distributed to applicants
  • 2783 petrol, clothing, or supermarket vouchers provided
  • 52,000 hours of psychosocial support provided

Efforts to assess residents' evolving needs are ongoing, and assistance through both food parcels and psychosocial support is still being offered at a high level. "We will continue to assist Cantabrians, particularly in light of the latest aftershocks," reads the statement from the Salvation Army, "and we will do so for as long as needed."

In the meantime, David Hill and his fellow New Zealanders are doing their best to cope with the current reality in their country. With sadness, David remembers the first tour group he led following the earthquake, which was forced to bypass the city of Christchurch—as every other group has been since. "Of course they were disappointed, but not as much as I was," says David. "Gone is most of the cathedral where, with my group, I sat and listened to the beautiful choral evensong only days prior to the February earthquake. Gone, too, was storytelling in the room where the explorer Robert Falcon Scott said his formal goodbyes before leaving for the Antarctic."

Until the day when Christchurch is ready to welcome visitors again, David works hard to replace these experiences with new memories for his travelers—and for himself. "This challenge sure has changed my perspective on things," he says, "demanding that I take renewed interest in my surroundings and learn new stories."

We hope, along with David, Bob, and every concerned resident in New Zealand, that Christchurch will someday have new stories of triumph to tell. Our thoughts remain with the victims, and we extend our gratitude to the Salvation Army for their dedication to this important cause.

While Grand Circle Foundation is not accepting relief donations, we encourage interested donors to give directly to the Salvation Army Canterbury Earthquake Appeal, or to the Prime Minister's official Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.