Letter from New Zealand

February 27, 2011

We have an off-campus study group in New Zealand this semester.  They were in Christchurch when the earthquake hit.  Below is a letter just in from our Program leaders, Jay and Marcie Roberts.  Jay is Associate Professor of Education and Environmental Studies.  Marcie is the School Coordinator (sort of Quakerese for Principal) at the smallish preK-6 Friends School here in Richmond.  The letter speaks for itself about education and adversity.

Thank you to all who have sent well wishes and expressions of care and concern following the Christchurch earthquake. We are so grateful that all of our students and our program assistant, Liz Yoder, are safe and with no injuries to speak of.  Our students displayed remarkable judgement during the event and we are very proud of them for their resilience and ability to deal with adversity. We are also grateful for the good work of Patty and Jen in IPO in communicating with parents for us and Peter and Nicole Blair and Bill Buskirk for working quickly to come up with contingency plans for us.

We have evacuated to the North Island and are now safely in Wanganui at the Quaker Settlement. The last 5 days have been surreal. We lived out of our apartment with three other students and our program assistant with no water or power. We used a nearby swimming pool for drinking water for a couple of days until relief supplies arrived (I won’t go into what we did with our, ah, “waste”!) An entire cliffside collapsed right out our kitchen window and, sadly, there were two deaths from that event. Helicopters and planes buzzed overhead throughout the days and the apartment shook with aftershocks seemingly constantly. The kids took it as well as can be expected and we were grateful for the help of Air New Zealand in booking us a group flight out so fast. Some of us still feel “phantom” aftershocks even though we are no longer there.

It is absolutely devastating to learn what has happened to “our” city. It feels like a second home for Marcie and me as we have spent so much time here over the last six years. Sumner, the suburb where we live, is in very bad shape and still lacks water and electricity. Lyttleton, the small port community over the hill where two of our students interned was heavily damaged (it was the actual epicenter of the quake) and almost all the historic buildings will be condemned. The central business district of Christchurch is an absolute mess with many people still feared buried under rubble. The liquefaction in the eastern suburbs has rendered them almost unlivable and mass evacuations over the next few months are likely. It is so hard to see this happen given all that these folks have been through these last 5 months since the Sept. quake.

We are also reminded of the privilege we have to be able to have the resources to leave and that we have it much better off than many in this tragedy and we can only think of them and hold them in the Light during this difficult time. We feel guilty that we have left our friends in their time of need.

After consultation with many both in Christchurch and back at Earlham we have enacted our contingency plan which was to re-group back on the North Island in Wanganui at the Quaker Settlement. Patty was smart enough to ask us to work on that plan back in Sept. when the first quake struck. They have kindly opened their doors to us and welcomed us back and we are so grateful. The work in front of us is daunting: set up a new program here in Wanganui for the next two months including finding homestays, lecturers, and internships not to mention trying to get our family settled and the kids into new schools. But, we have a lot of support and it looks like we will be able to pull something off here.

We do plan to return to Christchurch at the end of April so students can pick up their things and fly out back to the States. In any event, we will all have to be quite flexible as we go to “plan B” in terms of curriculum and classes. One student remarked, “this is a chance to experiment with what education really is, isn’t it? This will probably be like the coolest educational experiment since, you know, John Dewey!” So, we have our light hearted moments as well.

We remain grateful for the little things: water, food, shelter and the warmth of human relationships. New Zealanders are practical, proud, and helpful folks and we have lost count of the number of times we have seen this displayed in the last week. Thank you again to all for your expressions of concern and for your prayers. This city will need a lot of love sent their way for a long time. We are working on where we would encourage people to send donations to the city and should have that up on our blog site before the end of the week.

In peace,

Jay and Marcie Roberts
2011 Program Leaders

p.s. one final note. Pay attention to those who preach “emergency preparedness.” It is amazing how important things like candles, water, food, battery powered radios, and a gassed up car become once a real emergency happens!

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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