Ara scholarship students share history and hope

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05 Apr 2016

Rika Award recipients 

Rika Award recipients with Mr and Mrs Hyuga (centre), who established the award in memory of their daughter.

This year's winners of the Rika Award share a common bond with the founders of the award. The Rika Award was established in 2013 by Mr and Mrs Hyuga to honour the memory of their daughter Rika, a nurse studying English, who lost her life in the CTV building following the 22 February 2011 earthquake. The Rika Award is given to New Zealand students who are studying either Japanese language or nursing.

This year's scholarship winners Tom Townson and Phillippa Lee were deeply affected by the tragedy at the CTV building where 115 people lost their lives. Lee was working as a receptionist at The Clinic medical practice which had recently relocated from Gloucester Street to the CTV building. She was trapped in the collapsed building until rescue workers succeeded in freeing her several hours after the earthquake.

While Lee was trapped, Townson was on the other side of the building. Having served as a volunteer firefighter since he was 15, Townson was 18 when he received the callout to attend the CTV building.

"I had always wanted to be a firefighter but on the day I saw what the doctors and nurses were doing and it was impressive. I wanted to be able to help like them. Even in the fire service, after you have rescued someone, you're just left waiting with them until the ambulance arrives. I wanted to be able to actively help them."

Although deeply affected by what he did on the day of the earthquake it took Townson time to decide that nursing was what he really wanted to do.

"After the earthquake I wanted to do more. I didn't act on it immediately. It took time to make the decision. Then I did the pre-health course at the end of 2012."

Townson completed the pre-health course which prepared him for the nursing programme which he entered in 2013. He is now in his final semester which consists of a work placement in an intensive care unit.

"I want to make a difference and here you can do something that makes an impact. I want to go into intensive care or emergency. There is a lot going on and it requires critical thinking. You're in an amazing team."

However, despite the time and demands placed by study, Townson still continues to volunteer – now as an ambulance officer.

"I really like being involved at these critical stages of care. You can make such a difference."

While the events at the CTV building were tragic Townson believes that a lot of good has come out of the earthquake.

"A lot of positions which were voluntary before the earthquake are now professional and people are choosing to make a positive difference. Rika's parents are offering these scholarships and giving students amazing opportunities which I am sure will change our lives and will enable us to change others. I'm really proud to be awarded the Rika Prize. "

It is a sentiment Lee endorses.

"I feel really honoured to have been awarded this prize," she says.