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Friday, April 8, 2011

Exceptional efforts in times of trouble

Exceptional efforts in times of trouble

Last updated 08:14 01/04/2011
One of the enduring media moments immediately post-earthquake was the interview with a few women who had just walked off the top floor of the CTV building having, only minutes before, been five floors up.

These women work for Relationship Services Whakawhanaungatanga, which is a counselling-based service that operates in several sites across the country. The team was in the midst of a supervision session when the quake struck, so only one client was in the building. One staff member was seriously injured and others sustained minor injuries, but tragically one staff member did not make it out of the building.

After the September earthquake, Relationship Services were contacted by Paula Bennett, the Minister for Social Development, who asked the organisation to be a lead counselling agency for those who had been affected and required support.

Additional counsellors were brought into the city and a comprehensive service was established and taken up by many of those caught up in the trauma of September's event.

Within a few hours of the February quake, Bennett was once again on the phone to Relationship Services but this time with a message of condolence and offers of support. Not surprisingly, many others did the same and the messages meant an enormous amount to the team.

Within 24 hours, the national organisation had counselling services in place. Initially it was a phone service, but very quickly a face-to-face counselling service was in operation once again.

In the bigger scheme of things, one might not consider such a service a priority, but many hundreds of people have made use of the Relationship Services counsellors since the September earthquake and even more since February.

For many, it is simply about being able to talk to someone about their seemingly irrational anxieties; about not wanting to leave the house or not wanting to go home. For others, the quake has been the final straw that has broken the camel's back and they feel like they may be going over the edge. Others value the opportunity to get on the phone and talk to someone from outside of the quake zone to help them think objectively and order their thoughts.

Whatever it is that has driven them to seek counselling, the most important thing has been that the service has been available when needed. Counsellors from around the country have been on telephone shifts, so no matter when the need strikes, the opportunity to talk is there.

But, most importantly, I acknowledge those Christchurch-based staff who have quickly stepped back into frontline counselling, operating from temporary premises and doing all they can to bring their expertise to bear upon those in need. And they do this while still dealing with the aftermath of their own trauma and the grief of losing a colleague.

I also want to acknowledge another Christchurch-based group that is part of a national organisation. Environmental Science and Research (ESR) is located out by the university and has been affected like so many other work communities in the city. The staff's houses have suffered damage and their lives have been disrupted as they try to manage lack of infrastructure, closed schools, and no business as usual. But they have also been involved in providing essential services for Christchurch.

The organisation has particular expertise in determining water quality and the organisation's skills have been critical, especially as other water testing labs have not been operational since the earthquake.

ESR is also a world leader in forensic science and has been a critical part of the victim-identification team from the outset.

It is the organisation's scientists who use their specialist science in an effort to determine the identity of those casualties most severely affected by the earthquake and its aftermath. This includes the utilisation of cutting-edge DNA technology.

I know there are so many important stories to be told about the efforts that people have made in this the most challenging of times. Some feats have been absolutely heroic, some have been tenacious, and so many more have been about stepping up when needed. I have decided to mention these organisations because I am involved with both of them at a national level and I know what they have done to make their contribution.

Does this make them any more special than the thousands of others who have behaved in an extraordinary manner over the past few weeks? Of course not, but they are still special and worthy of being recognised.

Just like those people who manned the phones to make contact with every person in the city registered with a disability to make sure they were all right, or those people at the marae who made sure that the families of foreign victims were welcomed and given space to grieve.

It is these thousand small but very important things that have been done that have ensured that Christchurch has remained the community that it needs to be.

- The Press

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