After Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Saturday, dozens of Facebook groups sprang up to do everything from celebrate the city’s survival to organize the distribution of free bottled water. One of the most inspiring groups is a grass-roots volunteer effort led by university students.
According to an Agence France Presse story, students have helped organize relief squads to help clean up the earthquake debris scattered about the city. Sam Johnson, a Canterbury University law student, set up a group called Student Volunteer base for Earthquake clean up, which has attracted 2,457 members.
When Johnson heard that lessons had been cancelled for a week, he set up the group and reportedly had 300 people – both university students and school kids – volunteer on the first day. Equipped with shovels, wheelbarrows and buckets, the volunteers set to work in groups of 20 around the city, liaising with emergency services authorities.
Johnson told AFP: “On Saturday night I saw all these Facebook groups like ‘I survived the quake, lets party’ and ‘buy a T-shirt, Christchurch quake 2010’ had sprung up. I thought ‘come on guys, surely we can do something more positive than that and do something positive for the community’.”
It’s great to see Facebook being used in this way – and also the fact that it’s being written about. Quite often it’s the negative stories that make the headlines, whether it be the woman who threw a cat into a bin or the Israeli soldier making fun of her Palestinian captives. But Facebook, and the web more generally, is a wonderful tool for citizens as well.
Back in the early to mid 1990s when I was a university student, it would have been impossible to organize a clean-up effort like this on such short notice. The choices would have been organizing far in advance via posters, flyers and student newspaper or joining an existing relief effort by a big organization or government body. Facebook just makes it so easy for these sort of spontaneous relief efforts to occur – and experience teaches us that people will help if it’s easy to do so.
Photo source: Image of earthquake damage from Sam Johnson’s earthquake group page.