02 Apr Community Engagement focused on Youth and Elderly Health and Wellbeing
In 2010 and 2011, Christchurch, New Zealand was devastated by earthquakes that caused 185 deaths, destroyed 80% of the downtown, and left 11,000 homes uninhabitable. Over 10,000 University of Canterbury students immediately responded by clearing debris and distributing water, blankets, and chemical toilets. A community engagement course, CHCH101: Rebuilding Christchurch, was created as an academic space for the student volunteers to reflect on what they had done. Ten years and several thousand students later, the course is still going strong with teams of students collaborating with community partners to achieve desired and tangible outcomes.
There were excellent examples of this during Semester 2 of 2019 that focused on the health and well-being of young people and the elderly. One team partnered with a retirement village to design and implement a pen-pal morning tea whereby students wrote letters about themselves, invited the residents to do the same, and then exchanged them in person. It was fantastic to see the students and residents hit it off and engage in long conversations, do origami, and play board games. At the other end of the spectrum, a team worked with the Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Service to renovate a waiting room. The students provided activities (guitar, whiteboard, etc.) and decorations to transform a drab and unpleasant space into an inviting one. In both cases, the community partners were thrilled with what the students accomplished and want to continue to work with us. The course and projects like these honour the legacy of the students’ efforts after the earthquakes.