Student Volunteer Week 2022

This week we’re celebrating our awesome volunteers for 2022 Student Volunteer Week. 

Throughout the week join us as past and present UC Student Volunteer Army (SVA) members share special moments from their time with SVA. 

Tim Greene (2017-2019)

SVA and Marjory Stoneman Douglas exchange: On the 14th of February 2018 a horrific shooting occured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This left 14 students and 3 staff dead, 17 injured and a devastated and outraged community. In the weeks following this tragic event the students of Douglas responded in a number of ways, most notably of which was the national ‘March for our Lives’ protest movement demanding action on gun violence led by Douglas students. 

Through a connection to the Parkland community, the UC SVA was able to reach out and facilitate an exchange with the Parkland students around youth leadership in a post disaster context and give the Parkland students a much needed break and enjoyable experience far from home. In July of 2018, 28 student leaders from Parkland visited Christchurch for a week long exchange with the SVA exec.

Individuals from both groups were buddied up and over the course of the very busy week, we engaged in various activities and heard from a range of speakers. The exchange culminated in a workshop session on its final day where both groups shared lessons from the successes and struggles of their movements to date and had conversations about community engagement, mental health, youth leadership and more through which we produced a white paper/how-to-guide for organizing youth movements.

This was a very moving and special week, where we made genuine friendships and were able to learn a lot from each other. In the following November, a group of 13 2018 SVA exec members were lucky enough to travel to Florida and Washington DC. In an amazing trip we were able to reconnect with our friends and share the SVA story and experiences with their community and further cement the special bond between the two groups.

In the days following the March 15th 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch, the Parkland students and their wider community reached out in a number of ways to us and those affected in Christchurch to offer support and advice in a very difficult time, which was greatly appreciated. This exchange was one of the highlights of my time with the SVA and something I felt very privileged to be a part of and made lasting friendships.

Sati Ravichandiren (2018-2019)

Kia ora, my name is Sati Ravichandiren and I was a member of the Student Volunteer Army Executive in 2018 and 2019.

Being a member of the SVA Executive was a life changing experience for me. It was two years spent creating meaningful volunteering opportunities for other students and helping communities around Christchurch and the South Island.

One memory that stands out from my time on the SVA Executive was the response following the March 15 Terrorist Attack. I was the President of the SVA at the time and I remember that after the initial horror and shock of the attack, our first thought as a group was what can we do to help.

We mobilised quickly, understanding that the best thing that we could do was support those most affected by the attacks. We helped out in any way that we could, including: working closely with the UCSA and Muslim Students Association (MUSA) to create a ride service for Muslim members of the UC community to and from funerals, the hospital, vigils, and whereever else they needed to go. Helping to set up and organise the Vigil at the university; placing volunteers around the Ilam community to talk to people and help make the community seem safe and welcoming; and organising a food drop to Muslim students identified by MUSA as being in need of support.

In the end, these were just a few small actions in the context of the wider national response to the horrific March 15 Terrorist Attacks. But I will always remember the mindset of everyone at that awful time – how can we bring everyone together and help support those most in need. That mindset is at the centre of everything the SVA does and is one that I will always carry with me.

Alex Cheesebrough (2014-2016)

My name’s Alex and I was on the SVA committee from 2014-2016. Through that time, SVA went through a massive transition from being an earthquake recovery organisation to a general volunteering organisation.

When I first joined, I was surprised by how little infrastructure we had. We operated the committee out of rooms we’d book in the library and we used our personal vehicles and trailers to run volunteering events.

At the end of 2014 the club was in debt by about $5k with no permanent income source. It looked like without any sponsorship funding or grants, we would have to dissolve the organisation. Fortunately, UC and City Care stepped up and provided considerable funding that summer and UC provided us with the SVA office which is still used to organise events to this day.

Membership grew from ~1200 in 2014 to ~2400 in 2016 when we became the largest club on campus. Some of our friends at uni coded the first SVA app for an extremely modest fee (this was their first job and they are now a successful software business).

It was incredibly fun to work with some of the best teams I have been a part of to grow the organisation to a point where we were running an event every weekend of term time. The reason we did it was because we saw what a difference volunteering a little time could make to individuals.

There are not many clubs in the world that make attaining that appreciation so accessible but SVA is certainly one of them. Please sign up and get volunteering!

Isabella Fanselow (2020)

There are definitely too many to choose from, but a favourite memory of mine from my time with the UC SVA was the 2018 Hokitika Camp – the Coaster community were so welcoming to us, we did around 10 different projects, we got to stay in a (potentially haunted) asylum, and I got to plan some of the volunteering projects alongside my uncle who lives on the coast. Then the local fire brigade put on an almost terrifyingly huge beach bonfire and we watched a very interesting outdoor movie. The West Coast just does it better!

Other standout memories that are too hard to fit into the word count include the incredible experience we had with MSD high school both in Christchurch and then when we were honoured with an invitation back to continue the shared growth with them in Florida. I also can’t miss being president during the SVA’s biggest activation since the earthquakes and developing our initial COVID response in 2020 – I learnt so much and it was a privilege to help lead the team during that time. 

Being a part of the SVA hugely shaped my time at UC and really developed me into the person I am today. It was also just a whole heap of fun doing good work alongside awesome friends, and the best way to meet people at uni who I might not have had the chance to otherwise!

Daniel Stack (2016)

As Christchurch moved forward with its earthquake recovery, the amount of silt to be shovelled and yards to clean thankfully started to dwindle. The SVA’s response to this was to carry its momentum into initiatives that focused on sustained community engagement.

The idea for an In-Schools programme came from the simple premise that people are intrinsically kind, but often struggle to find an avenue to channel this kindness. Our aim was to take a group of high school students and equip them with the skills and support they needed to start their own volunteering journey.

With close support from staff at UC, we created the UCAN Volunteer programme in 2016 and ran two separate initiatives, one with year 10 students and the other with year 12.

I was immediately awe-struck at the maturity, compassion, and ambition we saw from both of these groups; these were young people who had an immense drive to help others.

Giving them a space to meet like-minded people and helping them to develop as young leaders was an incredibly rewarding experience. Since then we have seen a plethora of “mini SVA’s” pop up in schools as this culture of volunteering has cemented over time.

I am so happy to have been a part of this endeavour and given the chance to meet people who embodied the values that I still strive to live by to this day.