Friday, 9 August 2013

Christchurch Migrants Earthquake Respite Camp

The Otago Youth Adventure Trust / Rotary Club of Milton Tramping Club
Christchurch Migrants Earthquake Respite Camp
– by Peter Vollweiler, Rotary Club of Milton, NZ

For over 30 years, the Rotary Club of Milton in NZ has had a close liaison with the Otago Youth Adventure Trust, a voluntary organization that owns three excellent Outdoor Education Camps in Otago. Milton Rotary has provided labour and finance on many occasions to help construct and maintain facilities at these camps.

The two organisations combined to form a Tramping Club, and since 1986 have taken over 16,000 people on low cost tramping and other trips on some of NZ’s most famous tracks and venues.

The Tramping Club wanted to do something for the people of Christchurch, so they offered a free (including transport) five day stay at the OYAT Berwick Forest Camp near Dunedin for earthquake traumatized families. Social Services Christchurch were approached, and the offer was enthusiastically accepted for migrant families who were more seriously affected by the continual disruptions. We were informed that a party of 39 would be coming down.

Imagine our surprise when the 45-seater bus that we had sent to Christchurch, disgorged 50 people on January 29, 2012, including families from Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Bhutan, China and Japan. 

The plan was to give these people a good time while at Berwick, involve them in some Outdoor Education Camp activities, show them some Otago highlights, and above all have fun! During the next four days most had a go of the flying fox, rifle shooting, archery, abseiling, kayaking, cart racing, a bush tramp and other games.  On the  picnic at Lake Waihola, Rotarians provided boat trips and towed screaming visitors on “biscuits” even though some were in full customary regalia. The afternoon concluded with a good Kiwi BBQ.
One morning was spent on the Taieri Gorge excursion train, and in the afternoon they enjoyed Dunedin’s Moana heated swimming pool, which the Dunedin City Council gave free of charge. That hydro slide sure got a good work out!

Meals were exciting times, as there were so many different cuisines, and numerous trips to local stores had to be made to cater for the different tastes. Milton Rotarian and Berwick Camp Warden for 20 years Jenny Scott stated, “The week was the most rewarding project that I have ever been involved with. I loved every second of it”. All of the members of the Tramping Club who helped at Berwick would echo her sentiments, as it was a very special occasion, witnessing the melding of so many cultures and beliefs into a group that accepted their differences.

The group was extremely well managed by Christchurch Migrants Centre Community Liaison Manager Kevin Park, from Korea.  His ability to relate to the different cultures made our job easier. In a Christchurch publication Migrants Down Under Kevin wrote, “The programme, in fact, has also built confidence within families and individuals, and developed relationships and friendships between attendees despite their great diversity. The migrants and refugees participating in the programme made the most of every opportunity to understand different cultures and respect each other on all aspects of their lives. 

To express their gratitude to the camp organizers, each ethnic group prepared their own national meals on several occasions. The last night’s gathering, before returning to Christchurch, was the highlight of the camp for many. The attendees showed their appreciation to the sponsors and volunteers in words , songs, dancing and cultural performances. Above all, the camp gave both participants, and the Kiwi volunteers, a perspective on the diverse cultural environment in NZ’s society today.”

In a thank you letter from Christchurch Migrant Centre Manager Rex Gibson, QSM, he concluded, “The comments to me when they disembarked in Christchurch were along the lines of “We feel like real Kiwis now”. Many had not been outside Christchurch before.”
The whole exercise was quite a costly event, but we have received some generous donations and discounts from many of our suppliers, for which we are very grateful.

To find out more about our Tramping Club, and how you can join a trip, go to