A presentation shrouded in secrecy and subterfuge turned into smiles of joy as Gidion Munyaradzi was announced as this year’s Graeme Rabbits Scholarship winner at Ryman Healthcare's Keith Park Construction Site.
The annual scholarship provides three years of funding and support by Ryman Healthcare on behalf of Selwyn and Viv Rabbits in memory of their son Graeme, a well-liked member of the Murray Halberg Village construction team who lost his life on site in 2018.
What made it so special was the fact that Graeme’s parents Selwyn and Viv were there to hear that the popular member of the Keith Park team had won, in front of an audience of senior Ryman Healthcare leaders and team members who had gathered for the occasion.
Even more special was the fact that Gidion’s wife Chipo was visiting the Hobsonville site that day too, and so got to witness a proud moment in her husband’s life.
Since Gidion began at Keith Park in January this year as Senior Health & Safety Advisor, he has made a huge impact on his fellow team members with his warm and friendly character and the way he shares his knowledge gained from more than 31 years of experience as an electrician and Health and Safety Manager working in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sierra Leone, according to Ryman Healthcare’s General Manager – Construction New Zealand, Paul Blackler.
Paul also drew similarities between Graeme and Gidion before revealing he was to be the recipient.
“Graeme was a man that was passionate about life, he was passionate about helping and serving others, and someone who would do anything for anyone," Paul said.
“So the person we’re going to award this scholarship to today actually upholds those characteristics. They’re bubbly, they’ve got a passion for life, they’ve got an enthusiasm of just getting in boots and all and helping. They take the theoretical and apply it in a really common sense practical way.
“And if you haven’t guessed who that person is… it’s Gidion!”
Senior Health & Safety Advisor Gidion Munyaradzi on hearing he is this year's recipient of the Graeme Rabbits Scholarship (above) and receiving the honour from Paul Blackler, Ryman's General Manager - Construction New Zealand (below).
Gidion’s similarities to Graeme also stood out to Selwyn and Viv, along with his desire to improve safety and wellbeing on site.
“It’s really neat that we’re able to give you this opportunity, having that link with construction, people who are caring for the welfare of people, and safety, that was really important,” said Selwyn.
“You’re an absolutely worthy recipient.”
Viv likened Gidion’s ‘integrity and passion’ to Graeme’s, and compared his love of running to Graeme’s passion for Crossfit.
“And what he has gone through in life and he still wants to help people, that inspired us,” she said.
Selwyn Rabbits explains how special it is for the family that Ryman remembers Graeme in this way.
Gidion was almost lost for words.
“My mother gave me a small body, but a big voice and the energy to speak throughout, but for the first time in my life I won’t have many words because I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” he said.
As part of his Master’s degree in Occupational Health, Safety and Environmental Management, Gidion plans to complete a research project titled ‘Investigating possible linkages between occupational health and safety risk factors, psychological-social stress factors and general wellness issue to sustain zero harm and improve people wellness at Ryman Healthcare’.
“My desire to enrol for this programme is inspired by my deep passion for people’s safety and wellbeing,” he said.
“I believe zero harm and sustainable wellness are achievable – at a workplace, no person should lose a life, get disabled or suffer an occupational illness with irreversible health effects.”
Gidion, who is now the sixth person to receive the scholarship, was particularly moved by Graeme’s story.
“Through this opportunity, I hope to acquire the necessary skills that I need to execute my duties, serve people more effectively and contribute towards extending the legacy of Graeme Rabbits,” he said.
The timing was perfect as he had reached a crossroads with the funding for the Victoria University course, being an international student.
Gidion’s journey to New Zealand has not been easy.
The first seven years of his life in his homeland of Zimbabwe were blighted by war and conflict which caused him to be separated from his parents for a time, inflicting lifelong mental scars.
Paul gives Gidion a hug as Gidion's wife Chipo watches on, equally shocked at the happy news.
He survived the war, completed his schooling then began his chosen profession as an electrician.
However, suffering his own workplace injury and being witness to a colleague losing his life through a work-related accident inspired him to train as a health and safety practitioner and sparked a passion which is as strong as ever today.
In 2011 his family was forced to move to South Africa due to the growing political and economic tensions in Zimbabwe but further resentment and discrimination against Zimbabwean immigrants forced Gidion to relocate to West Africa in 2020, seeing him separated from his wife and four children.
This is what led to him applying to live in New Zealand, with Chipo and his youngest son Gerald, 13, joining him a few weeks after he arrived in January.
While he took a role lower than his qualifications and experience would lend themselves to, he wanted to learn the way of doing things properly in New Zealand first.
“Having understood the need to do it right in a new country, I sought to humble myself and preferred the role of Senior Health & Safety Advisor.
“I am doing what I love, I am offering my passion and skills to fellow Rymanians.”
Top pic back row from left: Keith Park Project Manager Simon Richards, General Manager – Construction New Zealand, Paul Blackler, Senior Learning and Development Advisor Sara Bray; front row from left: Group Learning and Development Manager Miranda Barnes, NZ Construction Health and Safety Manager Aaron Edwards, Chipo and Gidion Munyaradzi, Viv and Selwyn Rabbits.