How Empowering Young People Builds Capability and Resilience: An Interview with Jared McMahon, President – Student Volunteer Army

24 March 2017

The Minister for Youth, Nikki Kaye, recently announced funding of $20,000 to support the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) to provide around 200 more Christchurch secondary school and university students to have the opportunity to be part of local volunteer initiatives. This investment is being made under the Partnership Fund, which sees the Government co-invest with business, philanthropic, iwi and other partners to grow youth development opportunities.

SVA logo

Since its establishment in 2010, the SVA continues to play an important and ongoing role within the community, providing assistance to those in need, supporting community groups and projects, and giving students volunteering opportunities.

The SVA was formed after the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake, with the creation of a Facebook group that served as a platform where people could find information about how to volunteer. Over the next two weeks, the SVA facilitated volunteering through providing transport, food, and logistical support for over 2500 students. During this period, the SVA cleared over 65,000 tonnes of liquefaction.

Far greater damage was sustained in February 2011, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Canterbury region. One of the greatest challenges the SVA faced after both earthquakes was to locate the areas where volunteers were most needed. With the help of, the SVA designed a mobile management system whereby residents could register their need for assistance via a free call number, text message service, or online. Each job was examined and prioritised, and team leaders were appointed to guide small crews to appointed sites. The SVA cleaned over 360,000 tonnes of liquefaction by utilising more than 75,000 volunteer working hours. 

SVA group wheelbarrows

Jared McMahon, President of the SVA believes that getting involved with these activities has contributed greatly towards building capability and resilience in young people.

“Volunteering builds the confidence of our students to perform in adverse situations and allows them to work with organisations that they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to. The feeling of contributing to a cause bigger than oneself, being included in a group of people that may not have ordinarily come together, and having your efforts genuinely appreciated helps develop in our volunteers a sense of self-worth and creates connections between them and the community. We try to foster the idea that everybody has a role to play, this can be an extremely empowering message for young people.”

Big Give

He has relished his time with the SVA and believes that young people thinking about volunteering shouldn’t hesitate.

“The SVA is an amazing organisation connecting students with external communities, it gives students opportunities for partnership and connection, allowing them to give back and leave their mark on a community in thanks. The SVA brings people from different cultures, sections of society, and age, together equally to do something great. Our advice for young people who are thinking about volunteering would be to go for it! The sense of fulfilment you’re rewarded with after a day’s volunteering is great, but the friends you meet, experiences you have and the difference you’ll make, is even better."

On 4 March, the SVA welcomed over 800 students at The Big Give which took place in Southshore in Christchurch. Over 1,600 volunteering hours gave the Spit Reserve a new lease on life. Watch this video to see how they got on!

SVA Group

Jared is very clear on the biggest opportunities and challenges facing young people today and how being involved with the SVA, and its activities, can help to capitalise on or mitigate against these.

“Unemployment is a challenge facing many young people today, with a major barrier to employment being a perceived lack of practical experience. While it's certainly not the main reason behind youth joining the SVA, volunteering does help an individual gain experience by providing an opportunity to practice practical skills. Through simple participation, we develop leadership and communication abilities, along with more specific skills such as working with the media, project management for our significant projects, and dealing with the financial pressures of delivering an output on a limited budget. The SVA also gives our volunteers the ability to influence factors in their environment, which for many young people may seem to be out of touch with their own interests or views.”

The SVA appears to be going from strength to strength and we’re excited to see what other initiatives they get involved with in the future!