YOUTH DAY: 'I didn't join a gang because I wanted to' – former gang member hopes to turn the lives of Hanover Park youth around

2018-06-16 06:48
Fagan Adendorff (Supplied)

Fagan Adendorff (Supplied)

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After overcoming a childhood characterised by poverty, violence and gangsterism – Fagan Ardendorff has committed himself to giving back to the youth in his community.

The 25-year-old from Hanover Park, Cape Town, spent much of his adolescence in and out of the juvenile detention system.

At the age of seventeen, he was introduced to the harsh confines of Pollsmoor Prison after he was found in possession of a firearm in 2011.

He was released from prison only to return on a drug-related charge in 2012, for which he spent a short stint in jail before he was again released. A year later, he found his way back into a prison cell for assault. After being paroled, Ardendorff violated the conditions of his release and was arrested once more in 2014.

The youngster described this experience in prison as a particularly dark period.

"I wanted to take my life because nothing was going right and my family refused to visit me. My experience in prison was that of a war zone," he said.

'The people who showed me love were gangsters'

"It was not what my uncles said it would be. There was drugs and violence everywhere and I was also very stupid at the time and tried to fight with the wardens."

Ardendorff was no different from many of the young men in his community who turned to substance abuse and gangsterism to ease the reality of poverty and neglect.

"I was raised by my grandparents and I didn't know my parents for a long time – I only met my biological mother when I was 10 years old. I met my father when I was 13 and I haven't seen him since," Ardendorff explained.

"I didn't join a gang because I wanted to. I didn't have family who really cared for me, so the people who showed me love were gangsters and they took advantage of that."

He believes that his time in prison was a catalyst for the change in his life and, subsequently, the lives of the children that he works with.

"One night, people from church came to the prison and they sang a song that really touched me," he said.

"I started to focus on what I can be and what I can do. I started to daydream about my life. I knew that God was working to lift me up."

Life-changing experience

After that night, Ardendorff got himself into the Restorative Justice Programme and various other leadership courses to develop his skills.

"I did a lot of volunteer work and when I was released from prison, I studied courses at RLabs, a training facility in Bridgetown, where I eventually became a facilitator," Ardendorff said proudly.

It was his experience at Chrysalis Academy, a government-funded youth development initiative in Tokai, that had the most impact on his life.

"I was afraid that I would not be able to go because their criteria excludes people with criminal records and I dropped out of school in Grade 9," he said.

"But they gave me a place and after graduation I was placed as an intern. I've been interning as a personal trainer for six months at the gym. When this ends, I need to find something else to do."

Chrysalis Academy postgraduate placement officer and mentor Lana Fortuin says she is incredibly proud of Ardendorff's progress.

"When he got here he was a bit scatterbrained, but we were impressed at how quickly he has taken to leadership," she said.

"He has a lot of potential and he has a skill for peer leadership and recruitment. He had been identified as a leader and we have decided to keep him on."

'Stay positive'

She revealed that he is in the process of developing a holiday programme at a local school.

"His transformation is huge and his experience has helped him relate to the children."

His true passion is working with children and moulding young leaders.

"I love working with children and [become] a role model for them. I want to show them that their stars can also shine," Ardendorff said.

"I am inspired most by struggle hero Ashley Kriel from Bonteheuwel who stood up for what is right and kept his community firm."

He dreams of one day opening a boot camp in Hanover Park to instill discipline in the youth.

"There are no activities for children after school and there is a lack of sport. I remember when I was young, the only thing that kept me in school was playing soccer with my friends," he explained.

"I want the children to know that whatever you put into the universe, the universe will give back to you. There is hope in the world and they must stay positive."

Read more on:    cape town  |  youth day
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