10 Mar Meeting an overwhelming need – Fred’s story
In the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks, Victim Support launched an unprecedented effort to provide support and guidance to the victims. One of those who volunteered to travel to Christchurch was Fred, a support worker based in the Wairarapa Region.
One year on, Fred reflects on the scale of the response required.
“The need was like a tidal wave. It must have felt overwhelming for all those immediately involved”, says Fred.
Before his involvement in Christchurch, Fred was a volunteer support worker for just over a year following a career as a registered mental health and general nurse, managing community services in the Wairarapa.
“Becoming a support worker and giving back to the community seemed like a good fit with my nursing background.”
Following the attacks, Fred contacted the coordinators of the Christchurch response and volunteered to travel to Christchurch for 14 days. The longer stay allowed for continuity in the initial stages of building relationships with the Muslim families he was assigned.
Victim Support, along with other agencies, set up a hub to centralise access to the services victims may need. Fred and his fellow support workers were each assigned a group of clients. Victims included the injured, family members of the deceased and injured, and witnesses to the events.
“They all had different needs, and we were helping them in different ways. There were hurdles to overcome for these people. Some needed help to understand what was happening with health care. Others had family members coming over, so we helped them to engage with immigration and other services such as housing, counselling support and medical centres”, says Fred.
Something Fred noted at the time was the willingness of Victim Support to be flexible. He recalls a couple from Fiji whose family could not travel. Victim Support chose instead to fly them back to Fiji to ensure they had the much-needed support of their wider family.
“Victim Support should be commended for thinking outside the box. They were prepared to be creative to meet the need. That was really important and beneficial.”
Fred has subsequently travelled to Christchurch three more times and made hundreds of phone calls, providing an ongoing connection and support for his clients as they slowly put the pieces back together and continue with life after the attacks.
“People were very hospitable and made me feel welcome. There wasn’t the level of bitterness and anger that you’d expect.”
He also feels the experience has helped him provide better support to victims he’s worked with since.
“I guess the intensity of that work, and what I experienced in a short space of time, actually created a stronger foundation for me to do my day-to-day work.”
Reflecting on the Victim Support response in Christchurch, Fred recalls a renewed appreciation for the work of his colleagues around New Zealand.
“Because of my professional background, I felt fortunate to understand and help with medical questions which cropped up frequently. I also saw the value of what the other volunteers were doing at the daily brief and debrief sessions, particularly the coordinators who put in a huge amount of work to support the volunteers, victims and their families to help deal with tragedy. Victim Support, irrespective of race, colour, creed and sexual orientation, are there to meet people in their time of need.”