Japan to use Christchurch volunteer model

JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2011
Sam Johnson
AFTERMATH: Student volunteer Army organiser Sam Johnson was shocked by the scale of devastation in Japan.

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A 5.3-magnitude earthquake was not the welcome home that Student Volunteer Army leader Sam Johnson wanted.

Johnson returned to Christchurch on Monday after spending two weeks in Tokyo and the tsunami-ravaged northern city of Ishinomaki, where he helped with the cleanup and organising a Japanese version of Christchurch's student volunteer army.

"I got a huge shock [yesterday morning]. It [the quake] gave me a fairly big shake-up," he said.

"Christchurch earthquakes are completely different to Japan, because the ones in Japan are so far out to sea and feel more like twos or threes [in magnitude]."

Despite the aftershock, Johnson was glad to be home after an "emotionally, physically and mentally draining" trip.

"It was the most heart-wrenching thing I have experienced in my life. People's lives and homes are torn to shreds."

While clearing homes, Johnson helped a man who had seen his mother and aunt get washed away in the tsunami.

"That guy broke down and cried, he was so overwhelmed," Johnson said.

"They are conditioned to manage everything themselves. He was thrilled with the support."

Volunteers had to shovel silt into 10-kilogram shopping bags and stack them on the side of the road, or dump them on the property of someone who had died, Johnson said.

Working with different volunteer agencies had given Johnson an appreciation of the scale of the disaster and showed where volunteers were needed, he said.

"It's going to take years. There is going to be scope there for volunteers for years the scale is so big."

He had met a student from Waseda University in Tokyo who was creating a student army using the Christchurch model.

Johnson said it was "heartwarming" that the Kiwi model was being adopted in Japan.

"It's really good and made the trip worthwhile, and it feels like we have done something," he said.

Meanwhile, Freemasons New Zealand has presented Johnson with $5000 for the student army.

Johnson said he was setting up the Volunteer Army Foundation as a charitable trust that would sponsor events and promote community involvement for young people.

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- The Press

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