Since the day after the arrival of 158 evacuees from Wuhan, our New Zealand Red Cross disaster welfare and support (DWST) volunteers have been at the Whangaparāoa Defence Force training base, north of Auckland, providing a wide range of support.

Following the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the NZ Government organised a flight to evacuate people from Wuhan where the coronavirus outbreak started. 158 passengers have been placed into a 14-day quarantine in Auckland.

On the first day of the quarantine, seven Red Cross volunteers received a health and safety briefing from Auckland Emergency Management before being allowed inside the Defence Force training base to assist the evacuees.

“We’ve had floods and earthquake, but it is the first time New Zealand is trying an isolation for an epidemic, so we were curious about it to begin with,” explains Monica, DWST Hamilton team leader deployed to Whangaparāoa.

As each passenger was only allowed 10kg of luggage on the plane, they were able to only bring a few things along. The first task of Red Cross volunteers was to listen to what people were missing and working with other agencies involved to source these items.

“There are a lot of mums with their babies who travelled back to China to see family, but are now here without their husband, so they’re on their own. I’ve met a mother with one-year old twins who couldn’t have a shower, because there was no one to take care of the kids,” explains Nicky, another volunteer present in Whangaparāoa.

Monica and Nicky, two of our disaster response volunteers supporting guests at Whangaparāoa base.

“After listening to her, we organised a stroller and a babysitter to push the stroller while she takes a shower. Something as simple as that, but which makes a big difference.”

“We made them feel like we were listening,” adds Monica.

Our volunteers have been providing a wide range of support to the evacuees. They have set up an information desk in the base where people can find out information such as where to go for their laundry, what time the meals are, etc. They are also in charge of the distribution of the items requested by the guests.

“The guests are not allowed to touch the items, so they have to point out what they want, and we bring it to them,” says Monica.

Our volunteers check in daily with the guests, providing emotional support when needed. Our disaster response team members are trained in psycho-social support and have experience assisting earthquake and flood-affected communities. Almost everyone affected by a disaster will experience stress at some point. These reactions are ordinary responses to an extraordinary situation. Our volunteers are on the ground are there to ensure the guests’ concerns and needs are listened to and addressed.

“I knew almost all the names of the 158 guests by the end of my deployment. We did a lot. It was really rewarding,” shares Nicky.

Our disaster response volunteers will continue to support Whangaparāoa guests, with members rotating on a four-day period, traveling from as far South as the Wairarapa and a far North as Whangarei.

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