Abduraghiem de Klerk was a janitor at the LSEN (Learners with Special Education Needs) School for nine years.
The father of three had always wanted to further his education, and two years ago he decided to make it happen.
“I wanted to either be a teacher, traffic cop or civil engineer but, at the age of 17, I had to drop out of school and work for my family as I was the eldest. I got a job at the Navy,” he says.
“Just before Mandela’s release from prison (in 1990), I was retrenched from the Navy.”
He then started working as a security guard. “I was the guy standing at the entrance at Edgars, checking the bags or closing it with Sellotape.
“I thought no, this cannot be it. I went into construction as a mixer, and soon I became a builder.”
Meanwhile, Abduraghiem got caught up in drugs, and did everything from dagga and mandrax to tik.
“I was a drug addict for 20 years, I did about everything. Today I am 17 years clean without any rehab,” he says.
Another key turning point in his career came in 2010.
“LSEN called with a job I had applied for. That really took a load off my shoulders,” he says.
There he discovered a passion for youth development, and this led him to the launch of his cycling club, Fresh Start, in 2015.
“This cycling club is to instil hope in the community and for addicts to see this is possible,” he adds.
“I was working and enjoying what I do at LSEN. My cyclists are children from the area and every term I would check their school reports. If they had not performed well academically, their bikes would be taken away, thus they improved immensely.”
The desire to help children is what drove him to study.
“I enrolled at CPUT for my diploma in 2018. It was part-time and the three-year course was crammed into two years,” he says.
“I worked full-time, went to class Fridays and Saturdays (in Mowbray). It was hard. I wanted to quit in the first three months but the guys in class looked up to me and convinced me to stay.”
On 11 December, Abduraghiem graduated with two distinctions.
“When I walked on that stage, toe raak my maag vol butterflies. It still does when I think about it.
“I was finally qualified and a recognised teacher. I am qualified to teach mathematics and technology on a high-school level,” he says proudly.
Then this Monday, the janitor got the call that would change his life.
“I got a call asking if I had a post yet, I said no. A lady told me to put on my best clothes and come to Marine Primary (School in Ocean View).
“I was immediately employed and now I teach,” he smiles.
He says balance and focus are the keys to success.