To celebrate their ten year anniversary, Student Volunteer Army (SVA) has expanded its service, introducing four new clubs across the country. SVA is a student-run charity providing volunteering opportunities for young people in Aotearoa.
Initially formed in 2010 following the Christchurch earthquakes to assist local residents and clean up the city, SVA is now operating nationwide. The success of the University of Canterbury SVA Club inspired students from other parts of Aoetaroa to start clubs in their local areas. This year Auckland, Lincoln, Victoria Universities, and a joint University/Polytech Otago Club have been formed, all aiming to combat societal gaps in their region. Each club is headed by an executive team, who plan to facilitate volunteering opportunities for students that are accessible, non-discriminatory, and above all enjoyable.
The Auckland team is led by president Martina Moroney. The tight-knit group are passionate about volunteering, and connecting students with meaningful projects in Tāmaki Makaurau. Moroney told Craccum that she has been a volunteer for her whole life, and was first introduced to volunteering through her mum. “My mum is disabled and didn’t work for a long time, but she could volunteer, so I originally got involved in volunteering through her.” During COVID-19 lockdown, Moroney was a team lead for the SVA’s COVID-19 response call centre, organising grocery deliveries for primarily elderly people. “I was just sitting around doing online uni and couldn’t do my job, so I thought I might as well be doing something helpful.” Moroney’s extensive experience serving the community made her an ideal person to lead SVA’s Auckland club.
Sustainability is a core component of SVA’s mantra. Moroney says all of SVA’s activities support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and therefore they choose events that align with those purposes. “Our two main foci are ending inequality and sustainable cities.” For their first event of the year, the Auckland club partnered with Sustainable Coastlines, a charity encouraging people to look after the coastlines and waterways, and participated in a coast clean up on Rangitoto Island. As part of a group of 116 volunteers, they gathered 31 full sacks of litter weighing 205 kilograms. Despite visitors being required to take their rubbish with them, the Island is littered with garbage. Moroney and her team picked up glass, plastics, processed wood, and trash all over the Island. “Being able to see the immediate impact is really gratifying for volunteers, and that’s why people come back.
After a morning of work, students enjoyed kai, and some ventured to the top of the island’s summit. It was Moroney’s first time visiting the island, which she says was a really special experience. Sustainable Coastlines also provided an educational talk, as part of their Love Your Coast Programme. Waste disposal in Tīkapa Moana, the Hauraki Gulf has been an ongoing problem, and the Rangitoto clean up is part of a nationwide effort. Sustainable Coastlines aims to change people’s behaviour and inform policy change to reduce litter and freshwater pollution. Moroney feels it’s our responsibility as residents of Tāmaki Makaurau to look after our harbour, and says she is extremely grateful SVA was able to work with Sustainable Coastlines on this mission.
Connections and meaningful work are what drives Moroney to volunteer. “It’s helped me grow as a person and to be more social and outgoing. I think that’s really valuable.” Earlier this year, SVA executives from around the country flew to Christchurch to complete training their new roles. “We cleaned up the gardens and did gardening for some of the widows whose partners died in the mosque attacks. Those experiences are incredibly meaningful on a personal level.”
Living in a large supercity, Moroney says it can be easy to stay inside your community bubble. “It’s especially important in a city like Auckland to get out to different parts of the city and give back to the community in a hands-on way.” As President, she wants to help uni volunteers connect with people across society and the environment. SVA has some exciting events planned, and Moroney strongly encourages students to get involved. At SVA’s larger events, they reward participants with incentives like food and live music. “We try to make it fun for volunteers, so they want to keep volunteering for the rest of their lives. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Students can use the SVA App to sign up for projects in the Auckland region that match their interests. To stay up to date with upcoming events, SVA’s Auckland club is also on Facebook and Instagram @uoa_sva.
Illustration by Georgia Wu