Experiencing the 2011 Christchurch earthquake had a big impact on then teenager Tayla Cadigan.

Now 21, the tough times she went through after the earthquake have prompted her to join Red Cross as a Disaster Welfare and Support volunteer and to help out in quake-shaken Kaikoura.

Tayla and her father were visiting Christchurch for the day on 22 February 2011, from the West Coast.

When the earthquake struck, Tayla remembers her Dad helping her get on the ground to drop, cover and hold, and the sight of cars jumping up and down on the street. The earthquake was to have a lasting impact on her as she developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Before the Christchurch earthquake I was suffering from depression and being in the earthquake triggered it, making it worse. Over time I’ve been able to deal with it more.”

When Tayla moved to Dunedin in 2015, she began her first year at Otago University, and found out about Red Cross through a friend. She signed up as a member of the Disaster Welfare and Support team.

Tayla trains weekly with the team and was able to put her training and skills into practice after the earthquake hit in November.

“When the earthquake hit in Kaikoura last November, the Disaster Welfare and Support team was deployed to help. I was tasked with being in the recovery assistance centre. Red Cross, Ngāi Tahu and family support services worked together on people’s welfare needs like water, shelter, and food.”

Tayla remembers helping out one woman just after food parcels were brought into the centre for distribution.

“I talked to a woman who’d been trying for three days to get to town. She had to walk and hitch-hike to make it in [to Kaikoura]. I could tell I made a difference by talking to her, and it was awesome to be able to give her a food parcel. It included sanitary products, another important item for women during a disaster.”

Parcels are an important part of Red Cross' disaster response. 

Giving people support is a core part of the role of Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support volunteers.

“You know you’re going to be that person in the disaster who people need. But when it gets tough you have to step back – which I did do in the recovery centre in Kaikoura when I needed to. It’s hard taking on the other emotions of other people. You have to wait for processes to happen, rather than it happening straight away.”

Tayla is now in her third year of a pharmacy degree and she’s also training to be a facilitator of Red Cross’ Women and War programme, to teach children about the impacts and challenges women and girls can face during war.

Tayla’s aspirations for the future are to work with Red Cross or Doctors without Borders. Being part of the Disaster Welfare and Support team is something Tayla would recommend to people wanting to help others during and after a disaster. Being able to listen to others is critical she says. “It’s about how to approach people, giving people someone to listen to. The only time you get to really practice is when it’s happening.”

Tayla and a fellow Disaster Welfare and Support volunteer in Kaikoura