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EIT student boosts orchard workers’ fitness levels

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Roman Roberts guides Abraham Leo (right) through the exercise Roman Roberts guides Abraham Leo (right) through the exercise

A final-year degree student is helping seasonal workers avoid work-related injuries with his specially tailored fitness programme.

Bachelor of Recreation and Sport student Roman Roberts began his industry practicum with T&G in February, working with a group of 15 men from Vanuatu in a company-owned apple orchard close to Havelock North.

Some of the seasonal workers have been returning to Hawke’s Bay for years to help T&G with harvesting and pruning.

“For a lot of them, football is their preferred sport and most are trim and fit – it’s just a matter of them understanding the importance of stretching,” Roman says of the warm-ups and cool-downs designed to avoid repetitive strain injuries associated with seasonal work.

“It’s definitely a hard job and we want them to understand how good stretching is for the body. The people I’m working with at T&G are awesome, really helpful in terms of what I am aiming to do.”

While some in the group speak a little English, Roman is planning to produce posters with translated instructions to help Pasifika workers follow the exercise programme. He has also created two illustrated manuals, one outlining a dynamic stretching plan and the other a static stretching plan where the worker holds the stretch.

He often joins the group from Vanuatu as they start their day in the orchard, taking 10 to 15 minutes to work them through the exercises, and may be there again for cool-downs at day’s end. Roman launched into EIT studies aiming for a career in the health sector.

“Given the statistics for Māori and Pasifika communities, I wanted to get out information about the benefits of eating well, daily exercise and just general knowledge about the benefits of being healthy and fit. That’s the pathway I wanted to take with my degree.”

Roman grew up in Auckland and, looking back on that time, he doesn’t feel he was very focused at school.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Being older and having life skills on my side I realise what’s important,” the 29-year-old says of enrolling at EIT as a mature student.

Of Tainui descent, Roman played rugby league for Manukau Magpies but now finds he’s too busy for recreational sport.

He and partner Terina Waikawa moved to Hawke’s Bay to be near her Ngāti Kahungunu whānau. With their children – five-year-old Manaia and Noah, 4 – they enjoy the local lifestyle although Roman finds full-time study can sometimes be challenging.

“It’s about trying to find a balance,” he says. “I’ve been at EIT three years now, so we make it work.”

His positive attitude is reflected in high grades and his lecturers also point to his mentorship, particularly of younger students struggling to adjust to a new and unfamiliar academic environment. Roman will continue working with the seasonal workers from Vanuatu until mid-September, when they return to their island nation homes.

  • Source: An EIT release