South Africa 14.1.2017 05:00 am

Former drug addict runs school safety project, helps recovering addicts

TURNAROUND. From left, Eschel
Geldart, Gus Koopman, Dellin
Smith and Craig Wentzel keeping
the children at Florida Primary
School safe yesterday.
Picture: Nigel Sibanda

TURNAROUND. From left, Eschel Geldart, Gus Koopman, Dellin Smith and Craig Wentzel keeping the children at Florida Primary School safe yesterday. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

A primary school in Florida is where the story of an unlikely community hero starts.

Gus Koopman is a 53-year-old former drug addict and club owner who pulled himself off the road to destruction three years ago and went on to manage a rehabilitation home for disadvantaged youths in the drug-ridden western Johannesburg community.

With the help of the Kingdom Connecting Community Church in 2013, more than 40 young men and boys, many of whom were living on the streets of Florida and some of whose parents had begged for the church to intervene, were housed in a fully donor-funded house. In 2013, Koopman was a DJ in a nightclub doing drugs and alcohol.

“People didn’t know that I was doing drugs. I had started taking Ecstasy to stay awake,” said the church leader.

“The time I really wanted help was when I lost my club.

“I lost that club and the partner took all the shares away from me because I couldn’t manage the club any more – that was how bad it got for me.”

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Koopman recalled the day he reached rock-bottom and how that led him to fast and pray for 40 days. Then he received the phone call that would change his life.

“I asked God what I should do about all this and Ellen from the church phoned me saying they needed a house father for this new home that was going to help drug addicts.

“I didn’t know anything about being a house father or how I was going to help them.”

Then, in 2014, Florida Primary School principal Barbara Fick asked him to assist the institution with discipline – and a year later with the scholar patrol. This was to be the start of a pioneer project in which Koopman began enlisting the help of the youths at the home who were recovering from drug abuse.

He got them to become members of the school’s scholar patrol to give them a chance to gain community work experience and stay off drugs and the streets.

Eighteen-year-old Dwayne, a recent recruit, said his mother introduced him to “Uncle Gus”, and although he only joined the programme in December, the recovering crystal meth and “cat” addict said he had found new life.

“I will do whatever it takes to give back,” the teenager said.

“My intention is to actually improve the community because drugs are something that can destroy your life, so it’s really good to hang around kids.”

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