All Hearts beat the same

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Calvin Xhalabile grew up in a shanty town outside of Cape Town, and had a harder start on life than most people.
Today he lives in Denmark and has a degree in International Development and Communication.

His dream is to be able to change the circumstances of life to the better for the people still struggling in South Africa – and the best way to do that, he says, is through access to education. This is one of the reasons why he decided to become a part of NDA.

Calvin is also working on a story about his childhood and youth and we are so lucky that we can bring a short section of the story on our blog:


All hearts beat the same.

In a sense when one takes an introspective journey, one feels like they are being introduced to a stranger and thus meeting oneself for the first time. I am tasked to write a story about myself but how do I write a story about a man that I do not fully comprehend and how can a grown man not know who he is?

In looking back into my life I can see why I have trouble recognizing myself and why I had to ignore certain facts about the truth of my condition. Growing up in a poverty stricken area during apartheid South Africa and having seen levels of violence no child should be exposed to, I can understand why I lived in denial. Ignorance is indeed bliss. If I had known what I know now I can’t see how I could have survived my trials and tribulations. I am a forty year old man so my story is long and so we shall look at it in ten year intervals.

Life was not all grey and dark for us, at ten years of age I had experienced a lot of joy and childhood games. When I was a young boy I remember a poverty stricken and hungry childhood with a foul aroma in the air yet it is silver lined by a lot of good memories. We did not have much so we had to be creative. Everything around us was garbage and therefore all our toys were garbage and precious to us. The play ground was a garbage dumping ground. We belonged to the lowest class of what was called ‘Kaffirs’ at the time. A ‘Kaffir’ is a derogative word used to refer to black people by whites in South Africa. In our case we were so poor that even other black people called us ‘Kaffirs’.

By age twenty I had grown to be a troubled young man who had issues with alcohol abuse and had been imprisoned for theft. In prison I was beaten by other black men like myself and eventually raped. I remember asking myself what I had done to deserve all of this but could not come up with a plausible answer. I had no clue why I was the way I was or why bad things were happening to me, all I ever wanted to be was good but I never knew how. I know now that it is because no one ever taught me what acts of love were. All I ever knew was physical abuse from my father, other kids at school or my teachers. It seemed to me that everyone had a meeting every morning before I woke up and talked about how they were going to mess up my life for that given day. I became tired of life itself, I felt defeated and begun having suicidal thoughts. I was too afraid to kill myself but could not go on living so I became angry at life itself.

Life always gives us opportunities to change no matter how dark it gets. As faith would have it I was presented with such an opportunity where I had to make a decision to go on being angry at life and destroying everything that stood in my way or make amends and join a community that builds this world. Naturally it was safer for me to choose to continue in the path that I knew than to become a loving citizen of the world. I did not even know what love was, so how can I become that which I cannot comprehend?

Life showed its grace upon me on Sunday the 17th around 19:00 when my 17 year old brother was gunned down by another 17year old. This is what I call ‘pain’s monumental moment’ and an event that changed my life 180 degrees. Everyone including my parents thought I was going to go and shoot this boy but somehow something happened to me. I was in pain. I hadn’t felt pain for years. I had killed my feelings with alcohol and all the other things that are out there but in light of what had happened I could not hide or kill my feelings and I wanted to do so badly. At that point I understood something, I understood what it felt like to lose someone, I understood what it meant to be hurt and to be powerless at the same time. No matter what I did or what I did not do, I could not bring my brother back and I wanted him back so badly.

From that day on I made a commitment to build. I made a commitment to contribute into the stream of life instead of taking. I make this commitment because I would not like another parent or sibling to go through those intense feelings of loss if it can be avoided. I give gratitude for this sudden change in my life to my brother Mzwandile Xhalabile who died so I could live. Rest in peace, I live in peace.

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