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From heartache and despair to an EIT diploma and a successful career

July 26, 2021

Ginny Ropiha works with EIT Plant based Cookery Chef-Tutor Earl Zapf.

A personal tragedy plunged Ginny Mary Ropiha into a depressed state, where she sought refuge in alcohol and drugs, but her pathway of healing began when she enrolled in a Bakery Programme at EIT’s School of Hospitality and Tourism.

 Manaakitanga and caring for others and their needs before her own led Ginny to nursing at a young  age.

 In May 2017, her career and life was turned upside down when Maurice, her husband of 30 years, was diagnosed with a rare cancer and died six weeks later.

 Ginny spiralled into a dark period of despair and grief, where she found solace in alcohol and drugs.

“Emotionally I wallowed in that dark place, and I stopped caring. I didn’t care if I hurt anyone and I simply lost my hope, my way and myself in alcohol and drugs.

 The turning point for Ginny was her nanny Mary (Ginny’s middle name), who died before she was born, appearing to her in a dream and telling her in a stern voice: “Wake up moko” and “Open your eyes.”

This revelation made Ginny reassess her life and really look at herself and her actions.

 “After that dream, I snapped out of it. I stopped drinking and smoking. I even tried to re-enter nursing again, but I wasn’t there yet emotionally.”

“Where one door closed, another one opened and my new door opened in EIT’s Hospitality Programmes (Bakery and Cookery).”

It has been a journey of healing, self-discovery and some notable achievements in her new-found career.

“I have promised myself that I will always have a positive outlook on life, and I will never go back to those dark places again because life is way too short.”

In 2019 at the age of 50, Ginny re-entered full time tertiary studies as a mature student, enrolling in the EIT Bakery Programme (Level 3 and Level 4). She graduated as the top student and in 2020 advanced into the Level 5 Professional Cookery Programme. She was once again named as Student of the Year. She graduated earlier this year with a Diploma in Professional Cookery.

Ginny Ropiha as a culinary student in 2020.

For Ginny, it was about applying that positive outlook and facing up to all her phobias, challenges and hurdles and not only overcoming them, but “completely smashing them”.

“For me it wasn’t about the actual Diploma, even though that’s awesome, it was a confirmation of where I had come from to where I am now.”

“Although I never saw cookery as a new career, I found this culinary journey was the healing process I needed.”

Ginny says she knew that the culinary world was a way for her to reconnect to the side of her that cares for others.

“It was a great choice for me, because like nursing this is definitely another aspect of Manaakitanga.”

“For encouragement, for every day I put “H.O.L.Y” into practice, which stand for: Have an open mind to learn, Open your eyes and ears to learn; Learn to unlearn to relearn; and you are never too old to learn.”

Now 53, Ginny has not stopped her education, studying Te reo Māori full-time at EIT. She is also enrolled in EIT’s newly introduced Plant based Cookery (Level 3) Programme.

 She says this is a real interest and for health reasons, the way forward for her.

 Life has continued on an upward trajectory for Ginny.

“Being surrounded by awesome like-minded people, EIT staff, my whanau and faith, have been my key sources of whanaungatanga on my waka of self-healing.”

 Ginny’s success as a EIT student, has translated into a job in the kitchen at Royston Hospital in Hastings, which is quite poetic given her former career as a nurse.

Earl Zapf, EIT’s Chef-Tutor teaching Level 4, Hospitality Trades Academy and the new Plant-Based Level 3 Training Scheme, says  the new Programme is going very well.

“Plant based cooking has its challenges because you have to come up with new methods, not just new ingredients. It is exciting because when you take away components, it forces you to be more creative.”

Earl says that this year is the first time he has had Ginny in his class, and she is a model student.

“She is great because she is so enthusiastic and engaged and she gets involved.”

More information about hospitality programmes on offer at EIT can be found at hospitality.eit.ac.nz.