Former drug addict now uplifts the youth

Gavin Fortuin points to Elephants Eye where he took pupils.

A former drug addict is using his second chance in life to uplift the youth.

On April 5, Gavin Fortuin, 32, from Kuils River, celebrated six years of being drug-free.

Gavin graduated from the Chrysalis Academy’s three-month residential youth development programme in Tokai in 2010, worked there in 2016 as a youth consultant and recently he facilitated a matric camp.

With baboons playing nearby, Gavin said at 16 he was addicted to methamphetamine, better known as tik, and methaqualone, sold under the brand name mandrax.

Three years later he overdosed. He recovered but continued using drugs.

Gavin said he knew of gangsters but has never been part of a gang. He has been locked up in a cell but never in a prison, and he has been in and out of rehab but continued his addiction.

It was when he was kicked out of his home for stealing and found himself sleeping on the street in the rain that he had an epiphany. “With feet like two blocks of ice I asked myself if this was what I was born to do,” he said.

He asked for help. A single mum and with two kids, his mother Bridget Fortuin, heard him. “If it wasn’t for her I might not be here now.

“From her I learnt tenacity. Drugged out of my mind she said no matter what people say, she believes in me,” said Gavin.

He attended a rehab programme at Tehillah Community Collaborative in Elsies River.

In 2016 he graduated from Chrysalis Academy, an initiative of the provincial legislature, established in the year 2000 at Porter Estate in Tokai. Chrysalis Academy runs youth leadership development programmes and social crime prevention initiatives, empowering young people to take responsibility for their personal growth.

While at Chrysalis, Gavin realised he wanted to work in the field of youth development and went on to study to equip himself for this.

He has studied topics relating to substance abuse at the University of the Western Cape and the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), which was launched by then American president Barack Obama to invest in the next generation of African leaders. Other achievements include completing the Fundamentals of Leadership course at the North-West University Potchefstroom Business School.

He now serves as a consultant to the private sector, civil society and government organisations on social development and youth-related community issues.

The interview with Gavin was peppered with quotes from various authors, including Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Gavin said he has always loved reading and has changed from reading Dan Brown thrillers to books by authors such as American businessman Robert Kiyosaki, Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho, American self-help authors Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, and Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. Over the weekend of April 20 to 22, Gavin ran a workshop for Darul Arqum Islamic High School in Mitchell’s Plain for the second year.

Outlining his plans for the pupils over the weekend, he said growth is sometimes uncomfortable and like going through a furnace. “It’s difficult to cut a diamond. “They will need to divine their success, to become what they visualise for themselves without letting fear stop them. I love imagination,” he smiled.

The weekend included a hike to the Elephant’s Eye, a rocky recess on Constantiaberg above Chrysalis Academy. He said many of the courses would be interactive, including one on facing fear, another on personal development and leadership; and also a talk on financial literacy by FNB.

But most importantly he wanted pupils to sit in nature, to listen to their inner voice or holy spirit, to listen to the silence and just be. Afterwards they would talk about what they heard, to discover what is inside. “Sometimes it’s a painful process.

“Their parents or grandparents have told them this is who you must be, you are in this box, or that. There’s something about nature that calms the spirit. Most importantly they must not die with a song in their heart,” said Gavin.

He is in the process of setting up a not for profit company with partners, professional integral coach Dr Gilbert Dennis and counselling psychologist Dr Charl Davids. He is also writing a book: From the gutters to the podium. Gavin said he needs assistance for funding these programmes, not a hand-out but for a sound system, team building equipment and electronics, and transport to take youth on hikes. If you can help, contact Gavin Fortuin at 076 086 9007, or email