February 27, 2011

Community: the Idea and the Reality

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leading Volunteers at 2:51 am by Sue Hine

Today is for mourning the deaths of those crushed in the shake-up that happened in Christchurch last Tuesday.  People throughout New Zealand – being a place where just two degrees of separation is the norm – are all shook-up too.  And the tragedy goes global when you count in the tourists from overseas and the language-school students who have got buried under bricks or crushed by concrete beams and building collapses.

It will go on for months, the unfolding of this disaster. 

In human terms there is bereavement and trauma.  Already the population flight from Christchurch indicates high stress levels.  For those who stay the struggle to start again when your home is destroyed will be enormous, especially when the after-shocks keep coming.  The loss of possessions and artefacts that represented your history is like losing your identity, the sense of who you are.

I do not want to count the economic costs to the country.  There will be job losses, businesses will shut down, and a drain on government welfare support and services.  Investment rates will go down, funds for the community sector will dwindle.  And no doubt there will be a continuing migration outflow to greener pastures.  The ‘shaky isles’ have a shaky economic future.

Lest you think I am diving into depression let me count the positives for recovery:

  • Kiwi ingenuity and Number 8 wire thinking
  • Taranaki Gate initiatives
  • And if a Royal wedding in April is pumped as a feel-good event for the UK then we are surely going to have the best-ever Rugby World Cup in October.

 These ideas are the big picture stuff.  Much better to start small, at our local level.  That is what Christchurch people are telling us right now.  Read the reports, look at the pictures to find the spirit of community is alive and well, demonstrating how much survival depends on interdependence with others. 

In our techno-driven world it is easy to forget about belonging to a community, being part of a wider group.  Texts and twitters have become the communication of choice over face-to-face interaction.  (Yet vitally necessary in times like this.)

Christchurch people are telling us different.  Christchurch people are demonstrating some fundamentals of being human, opening their homes and sharing resources, looking out for their neighbours, talking to strangers, helping any-which-way they can. 

 And that spirit, in case you need reminding, is the stuff of community groups and organisations, at local and national levels. The idea of community can be the inspiration for leaders and managers of volunteers.

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