x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai taxi drivers' back pain takes a back seat

Fitness professionals teach drivers simple stretches to prevent and alleviate back pain as part of the 'We've got your back' project.

Yonas Gizaw, 27, has been driving for only 10 days but is already suffering pain in his legs, feet and lower back. Christopher Pike / The National
Yonas Gizaw, 27, has been driving for only 10 days but is already suffering pain in his legs, feet and lower back. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI //After six years as a taxi driver, Rashid Muneer is all too familiar with the aches and pains of a day at the wheel: he routinely suffers discomfort in his shoulders and upper back.

But now he knows some simple stretches and exercises that can eliminate his pain.

"Nobody has ever shown me this stuff before," said Mr Muneer, from Pakistan. "It's very useful for us. It should be made compulsory to teach the taxi drivers this because when we are on duty, we all experience pain or discomfort."

Mr Muneer is benefiting from We've Got Your Back, a project organised by the community engagement charity The Sameness Project and the fitness website Fitnesslink that hopes to reach as many of Dubai's 18,000 taxi drivers as possible.

Mr Muneer has been to a doctor about his pain before and was told to exercise to prevent the discomfort, which was not practical given his 12-hour shifts. "At least with these exercises I can do them during my duty," he said.

Yonas Gizaw, 27, has been driving for only 10 days but is already suffering pain in his legs, feet and lower back. "It's helpful to be shown some stretches," he said. "My back already hurts because we sit for so many hours."

Last week's class was held by Emilie Mikulla, a Pilates and yoga teacher in Dubai who volunteered to teach the drivers.

"The biggest problem is that they're sitting too long without getting out of the car," she explained. "Their hips, necks, backs, are all stiff. They're always in the same position so it's causing them a lot of discomfort. Even for those who are not in pain now, if they don't take preventive measures, they won't be able to do their job in years to come because once you hurt your back, you can't drive."

Ms Mikulla was full of praise for the initiative. "Anything to do with education is positive," she said. "The fact this doesn't take long is key too. They don't need to dedicate more than a few minutes, a few times a day for this, while they're on a break or waiting for a fare. Even just getting out of the car can make a difference."

Jonny Kennaugh, one of the founders of The Sameness Project, said: "The key for us is the interactions, the conversations, explaining that this is just people looking out for them and acknowledging the tough job they do.

"We want to do more than just give them something and then leave."

All the drivers are given a facecloth and Polaroid photo to remember the encounter and contact details for the charity should they need more help.

"We want that moment of sameness, to get to know individuals and overcome the stuff that separates people so much in Dubai," said Mr Kennaugh. "Having that time with them and seeing them smiling and taking ten minutes out of their day, knowing people are looking out for them, is as important as the stretches."

He and his team are now speaking to the Dubai Taxi Corporation to discuss making a class part of an internal policy for all drivers.

Simona Sotirovska, co-founder of Fitnesslink.ae, said they had become involved in the project to help include the fitness community in The Sameness Project's goals.

Her partner, co-founder Grant Goes, a group fitness instructor and coach educator, helped put together the booklet which is given to all the taxi drivers detailing all the stretches in five languages including Urdu and Hindi. "It was a really good response from the drivers today," she said. "We want as many people as possible to be involved in this as we can to help spread the message. So far we've had lots of volunteers."

mswan@thenational.ae