He has cleaned up his act only to dirty it with paint smudges and crayons streaks. Mark Jeneker, an art teacher at Yellowwood Primary gave up a life of gangsterism and drugs to finally pursue his passion for arts.Following decades of drug abuse and dealing, he has devoted his life to keeping children from following the same path and it was his love for the arts that ultimately saved his life.He was always artistic but fell into drugs and gangsterism at the age of 13.“I was a drug dealer for 20 years and because I was into gangsterism I did not care about anything,” he says.“I used everything from mandrax to dagga, alcohol and even dealt in guns because I was a leader figure in the gangs.”Taking up the role of a father figure to his step-grandchildren, he began to realise he was not setting the best example.“I was raising children and I lost one in a car accident and the year after I lost the other one. They were not gangsters. I raised them in church but I did not go,” he says.“I was a drug user and after they died I felt that something was not right, because why did they die and I didn’t when I was doing all the wrong things.”It was in this moment that Jeneker decided it was time to change. A lover of art he visited the Mitchell’s Plain library to display his art work and help keep children off the streets through offering arts and crafts sessions. “I saw children running around and I asked if I could keep them busy, because not all of them were at the library to read,” he says.Still heavily addicted and involved in drugs he would make his way to the library to offer art classes, funded from his own pocket. “I kept the children off the streets. There aren’t many positive rolemodels in our community,” he says.Realising he was called to a higher purpose Jeneker knew he could do much more.“I realised that I really could make a difference in these children’s lives. Because if I could get lots of children to join gangs, I could get these children to paint and draw and do good things,” he says.He started to go to church and finally saw the error in his hypocrisy and checked into a rehab. After being banned from two rehabilitation centres for dealing, he started cleaning up his act and has not looked back since.“The Lord really had a plan for me. I was meant to be a leader in the community in a positive way. I was called for this. I always loved art and we would build sand castles and do sculptures out of match sticks. I wasn’t called to be a gangster but because of poverty and lifestyle I was. It is all about the choices you make and I made the wrong one. But God put me here to do this because when I stopped that, all the doors opened for me,” he says.He now spends his time encouraging youngsters to express themselves.“When children are painting or drawing and when they are busy for that hour or two, it is time they are not spending on the streets,” he says.He has since won a Western Province Cultural Award and LeadSA Hero of the month for his work in the field. “What I love about this is that I sell their paintings and the money they make goes to their family.”This has further encouraged the children to continue their art and has helped many families. But Jeneker says they need help to continue, as they run out of supplies very quickly. Some of the supplies needed are canvases, paper, pencils, crayons, paint and anyother supplies that children can use to create art. He also does backdrops and other paintings to raise funds for the programme. V To donate paint brushes, canvases or any other art supplies or to order and buy art call Jeneker on 078 637 8853 or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.