Reflections from a volunteer

Jane Ross has been volunteering with CEISMIC for the past five months, coming in once a week to the UC Arts Digital Lab (the home of CEISMIC) to help us prepare material for the archive.  She reflects below on her experiences as a CEISMIC Volunteer.

Being a volunteer in the UC Arts Digital Lab working on the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive has been a real joy. I started at CEISMIC in February. Having just returned to settle in Christchurch after living overseas for many years, I was looking for ways to connect with the community. Working at CEISMIC was the perfect stepping stone back into life in Christchurch.

I've taken a lot of photos of Christchurch’s damaged buildings myself, especially of familiar landmarks, knowing that many would be demolished. I was looking online at earthquake photos when I came across the CEISMIC archive. I thought it was a really valuable project and realised it must be a huge job to catalogue all the photos out there of earthquake damage. I just turned up at the CEISMIC office and asked if they needed any help. I’m so thankful they said yes they were looking for volunteers. I started the next week.

Jane and fellow CEISMIC Volunteer Dana hard at work in the UC Arts Digital Lab.

As an editor for many years, I’ve worked on many different kinds of text. When I’m doing my work, whether it’s writing or editing, I really get into a zone where I’m completely absorbed in the work and lose track of time. With all the upheaval I’ve had during my move back to Christchurch, it’s been a blessing to be able to lose myself in the work of cataloguing photos and to feel I’m making a small difference. I used to edit memoirs and facilitate memoir writing workshops, so I know how important it is for healing that we explore our own stories, especially the stories of difficult times in our lives. The quake photos are a visual form of the story of Christchurch’s traumatic quake experience. Remembering and sharing this story is part of our healing process as a city.

Coming back to live in Christchurch was emotionally difficult for me; the city has changed so much since the quakes. Working on the quake archive has been very cathartic. Recently I’ve been working on editing the descriptions of photos of street art done since the quakes. This has given me a new appreciation for the creativity of our city’s established artists and young creatives and of the groups who worked to bring life back to the damaged CBD and other neighbourhoods. Now I look on the central city with new eyes, often noticing the street art that I would have overlooked before. I feel more connected to the city and to all who have struggled since the quakes, thanks to this work at CEISMIC.

Staff and volunteers enjoy a celebratory morning tea.

The staff in the UC Arts Digital Lab are wonderful to work with. They also are often completely absorbed in their work, but then we’ll all come out of that zone and chat about what’s going on in our lives. There’s a wonderful camaraderie in the office and a lovely atmosphere of shared endeavour and exploration. A lot of what’s going on in the office is at the forefront of digital publishing in academia. It’s exciting to see the other projects the UC Arts Digital Lab staff is involved in. I feel quite blessed to be a small part of this team and their larger projects.

Thank you Jane, and all our other volunteers, for your incredible work - we couldn't do it without you!  If you're interested in joining them as a CEISMIC Volunteer, contact our Programme Coordinator, Jennifer Middendorf: 

Photo credits: Jane and Dana photograph by Jennifer Middendorf; Morning Tea photograph by Rosalee Jenkin