FORGIVENESS WILL SET YOU FREE
Growing up in a community rife with drugs, violence and gangs is a common environment for many South African youth. For Ashwin Du Plooy, 18, he saw in this despair the possibility to serve, inspire his peers and care for the elderly. Ashwin is the personification of a servant leader. Today he shares what he has learnt in his short life journey.
‘I have lived in Bonteheuwel all my life, my extended family dominated my home street and we lived very close together. Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s place was a tradition and life was good.’ Ashwin comes from a strong Christian background, ‘my daddy and many of my uncles are pastors and very involved with the church, this was a big inspiration for me to see my family so actively involved in the community.’
At the tender age of 10 Ashwin’s father left the family, ‘This was my saddest moment, I did not see it coming.’ But Ashwin did not allow this to overcome him, ‘I knew that I needed to become the man of the house, become responsible and be the strong one for the family. My mom needed me, my sister needed me and I told myself that I would not let them down.’
In the same year, Ashwin decided to become more active in his community. ‘Drugs and gangs were on my doorstep and many of my friends were in that lifestyle. I could observe in many of them, how angry and hurt they were towards their families, especially their fathers. I decided to use my experience of having an absent father to inspire them. ‘I would go to the streets or I would go door to door to speak to youth, listen to them and give them guidance. I wanted to tell them that they didn’t have to go down the same path that so many others had, that if you live by the gun you die by the gun. I used to ask them if they were ready to throw their lives away at such young age.
Ashwin soon realized that the journey he had chosen was not going to be an easy one. After few years, Ashwin understood that to assist these youth; he first needed to deal with his own grief. ‘I realized that unforgiveness is a poison that you drink every day, expecting someone else to die from it. But in reality you are killing yourself. If you can’t set them free, how can you be free? I realized that I needed to work much harder with myself; I had to forgive my dad in order to move forward. I couldn’t inspire others if I wasn’t willing to honestly work with myself first.’
Second to his passion for youth, is Ashwin’s passion for the elderly. ‘I have always been close to my grandparents and when my grandfather died, I took the role of supporting my granny. I would often sit and massage her feet, talk to her, make her cups of tea and just made sure that she wasn’t forgotten. When I was very young, my grandparents motivated me a lot. They had such a wisdom and to listen to their stories was a pleasure to me.’ After his grandfather’s death, Ashwin began to see a great need in his community, ’It broke my heart to see the elderly deserted by their families. I remember meeting a lady called Ma Maria, she had looked after her family all her life but now the family were nowhere to be seen. I decided to do something about it. I befriended her and would visit her often, talk to her and care for her, this really fulfilled me.’
Ashwin continued his teen years, dividing his free time between youth and the elderly, ‘there is nothing greater than to serve others, it brings such warmth to my heart.’
Ashwin is now in his final high school year and he explains, ‘after school, my plan is to open my own business, a funeral parlour. I believe it would fulfill me to work with people who are suffering and comfort them. I sometimes wonder if funerals should not be more like celebrations. to celebrate the gift of having that person in our lives, and not just to cry for their loss’. With his big smile and shiny eyes, Ashwin winks and says, ‘I might become the one that makes people laugh at funerals.’
Ashwin is a former Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.