Sam Johnson

BLAKE Leader 2011

Founder, Student Volunteer Army.

Sam Johnson demonstrates incredible strength and leadership capabilities well beyond age. As a response to the September earthquake in Christchurch in 2010, Sam quickly mobilised to form and lead the Canterbury Student Volunteer Army (SVA).

Within a week, the Student Army was thousands strong, via networking through social media. Sam’s team focused on low risk areas, helping everyday people regain a level of normality within their homes and clearing thousands of tonnes of liquefaction. The SVA were recognised both nationally and internationally, resulting in meetings with Prime Minister John Key and the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

After the much more devastating February earthquake, Sam once more gathered his team, learning from mistakes made in September, rebooted the Facebook page and prepared for infinitely greater damage and a recovery predicted to take much longer. The early days after the ’quake were a period of desperation and hopelessness; for many Christchurch residents, the SVA was their first sign of assistance a smiling face offering a helping hand.

Civil Defence called on the SVA to supply volunteers for many different tasks. City Councils, Government Ministries and community organisations were able to utilise the force of volunteers, make contact with isolated residents and speed up the delivery of welfare information and chemical toilets.

Sam’s ability to lead and direct has enabled his team to develop into a charitable trust to create a template of the SVA to help in other disasters. A similar group of students have been trained in Japan and are using the SVA to help facilitate student volunteering in the Tsunami zone. The SVA also has started a scholarship programme, Hope for Christchurch, for children who lost their parents in the earthquake.

Given the outstanding leadership demonstrated in response to the Christchurch earthquakes, the Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Awards’ Selection Panel decided to award Sam Johnson a Special Leadership Award. He has displayed leadership skills that people twice and three times his age would aspire to, and is a true example of adversity bringing out the best in people.