This week has been the busiest, most hectic, longest week of my life. It has been arguably the best week as well. Last Saturday, I began volunteering at a Christchurch organization committed to supporting the victims and the affected families of the March 15th mosque attacks. After receiving a notification that the temporary operations manager was leaving to return back to her hometown, I came in to offer my assistance any way they wanted to use me. After two days of being a general volunteer in charge of sorting and organizing all of the donations coming in, I was trusted by the chairperson of the organization to start taking on more responsibilities as a junior operations manager, volunteer coordinator, donations coordinator, and building liaison.
When I learned the extent of my responsibilities, I quickly emailed my professors to ask for special consideration in order for me to take the week off and solely focus on the organization. Thankfully, my professors were understanding and are currently working with me to reschedule assignments—although the wife of one of my professors did drop by to see if I was really there and working! I think I convinced her though, as he has been more than flexible to accommodate my limited availability.
The one week spent working with the chairperson Zhiyan Basharati—a local community worker who established the organization the day after the terrorist attack—was a defining, humbling experience. A 29-year old Kurdish refugee, Zhiyan grew up in New Zealand and has known struggle from a young age. Her family is well-established in Christchurch as her father is a prominent halal butcher, and she has been working for the refugee and Muslim communities for the past eight years.
I truly believe that no one else could do what she’s doing—empathizing with the victims, battling the politics, constantly considering both her short-term and long-term visions. Zhiyan’s constant work ethic is unmatched, and her clear passion about this organization and helping the affected families is truly commendable. She’s willing to defend it against anyone who questions her competency; in the community’s eyes, she’s too young, too inexperienced, too liberal, too female…But she’s constantly proving them wrong by personally reaching out and connecting with the many families affected. Zhiyan and many others have put their entire lives on hold in order to help out complete strangers. While the chairperson thankfully did not lose any immediate family members, many of her friends and co-workers were tragically affected by the attacks. And yet Zhiyan has continued working nonstop for the past two weeks.
So, my main job this week has been solving the problems that she doesn’t have time for. A rough guide to what the past few days have looked like: we have been receiving new donations at an astounding pace which we must sort through, we are responsible for moving our donations reception area to a more secure location, we have to organize and inventory all of our donations, we have to create care packages and deliver them to the affected families, and of course, we have to comfort and be present for any and all of the incoming victims and their families. My personal responsibilities also include acting as the organization’s representative for the building manager, resolving any issues that she brings to my attention. Additionally, I am acting as a junior volunteer coordinator, debriefing and delegating to the volunteers who donate any of their free time to this cause.
Every day has been unpredictable. This job has truly made me use my interpersonal, organizational, and problem-solving skills to their maximums. Prior to actually doing it, I always imagined that I could do a job that required this much responsibility and organization. Therefore, it’s been extremely satisfying and validating whenever I hear the chairperson and the central manager discussing my performance after a long day of putting out fire after fire. All in all, it’s been a very busy but rewarding week. I know that I came to New Zealand to study and travel recreationally, but life is full of surprises. I will continue to study at University of Canterbury of course, but I am looking forward to the unforeseen ways my life will change by interning at this organization.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”—Douglas Adams
What I learned:
- The sheer generosity and kindness of Christchurch locals, Kiwi citizens from all over NZ, and people overseas sending in donations and offering their support
- The amount of patience and willingness a lot of Kiwi adults have to work with a tiny American girl half their age giving them orders
What I need to learn:
- How to be a more effective leader: asking for what I want in a direct manner, sensitively addressing grievances, and delegating more instead of trying to do it all myself
- How to balance my new volunteering schedule with my academic course load