EI affiliates in New Zealand are bringing urgent relief to teachers and students in communities that were badly affected by a devastating earthquake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, which struck the region around Christchurch on 22 February.
The enormity of the earthquake saw buildings topple onto buses, streets buckle, power outages across most of the city. At least 98 people are officially confirmed as dead and 226 people are still missing.
There are 630 schools and early childhood education services in the vicinity of Christchurch with approximately 76,000 students. Six schools are reported to have suffered significant damage while teachers and students carried out their daily activities.
Teacher unionists have quickly taken action to help affected colleagues. Arrangements have been made by the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) for members to access an employee assistance programme which provides professional counselling and trauma services.
The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) office in Christchurch has been damaged and is closed until further notice. The NZEI has reassured members that all of its staff are safe. The NZEI has also indicated that the best way to help people in Christchurch is through cash donations which can be made online to the Red Cross or at any major bank.
The Tertiary Education Union’s (TEU) President, Sandra Grey, told EI that according to early reports, she was not aware that any members have been seriously hurt or killed. She added: “We hope that remains the case, although it seems that hundreds of TEU members and their families have seen their workplaces and homes shaken or destroyed.”
Dr. Grey and TEU’s vice presidents have moved quickly to establish a $5,000 fund for TEU members experiencing financial hardship because of the earthquake.
Elsewhere, media reports have stated that students and teachers from a Japanese school who were visiting the city are trapped under the rubble. Eleven students have been rescued so far, eight of whom remained hospitalised and are receiving treatment. The school has stated that the trapped survivors are communicating by mobile phone.
In a visit to survey the damage, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, said: “This is heartbreaking. This may be New Zealand's darkest day.”
Education Minister, Anne Tolley, said the city's schools will remain closed until further notice, although some schools outside the city may re-open on Monday.
Ms. Tolley explained that “a team of 30 Ministry of Education assessors are currently working their way around schools to determine how safe they are and the extent of the damage, but it's already clear that many have been badly affected.
“The Ministry is working on alternative arrangements for students who won't be able to return to their schools, and more information will be made available in due course.”
A helpline for schools staff wanting further information has been set up by the Ministry of Education on: 0800 225 580.
EI has paid tribute to the response of its affiliate members, while expressing its sympathies for those people who have lost their lives or been injured.