My journey to Christchurch started on Monday and took me to five different airports and through five different time-zones. Still I arrived safely on Wednesday and dedicated today to finding out more about Christchurch. I’m staying on the outskirts, but a 40 minute walk found me in the middle of what used to be Christchurch City Centre. I talked to a retired teacher on the way. He explained how the city is still under re-construction and many people are still living in temporary accommodation over four years after the 2010 earthquake and over three years after the 2011 earthquake. The effect on family life was quite profound he said. For example people are still paying for mortgages on properties they no longer own at the same time as paying for temporary rented accommodation. Some families are in severe poverty situations, which inevitably affects family stressors, resources and interactions.
As I approached the City I could see what he meant. We walked alongside 500 acres of beautiful Hagley parkland. But the shopping centre is now replaced by temporary buildings on one side of the city called the Re-start Mall – charming to visitors but frustrating for locals according to the people I spoke to. However, people are very friendly, positive, resilient.
The museum dedicated to the earthquakes features stories from earthquake survivors. Listening to these brave people is humbling, stories of mothers searching for children and children searching for parents in the midst of chaos, people being rescued by firefighters and the trauma of losing limbs to stay alive.
I found myself talking to a shop assistant who had a child with severe Autism after a complicated birth. She explained how the Champion Centre (where I’m working for the next three weeks) had opened up her world and changed hers and her son’s lives – simply by showing her how to understand her son and giving him basic skills such as achieving and maintaining eye contact with people. I’m really looking forward now to meeting the staff there and working with them. When I worked in pre-schools, we rehearsed the fire drill with children to prepare them for marginal threat that we would encounter one. In NZ children also rehearse an earthquake drill, which children then share with their parents according to the car hire assistant who helped me. Children then share this with their parents at home, sometimes rehearsing the panic they felt in the last earthquake.
Here are some pictures from my first day.