Up Close … with Robert Ah-Weng, director of Care- ‘Life is a spiritual and emotional curriculum, specially designed for our growth as human beings’


Robert Ah-WengA deeply spiritual person, Mr Ah-Weng is known for his willingness to offer guidance to troubled souls and his passion for finding the peace and contentment he is certain exists somewhere within all of us.

Mr Ah-Weng comes from a mixed Chinese and French heritage, but identifies more strongly with his Asian heritage.

“I had a bit of Chinese influence and upbringing in my early years, which I lost as I grew up and had a Westernised education, but the Chinese heritage was still there in terms of character and personality rather than language,” he says.

Religion and spirituality
Mr Ah-Weng was born a Roman Catholic, but says he has been identified by others as Buddhist or even Baha’i.

“Being of Asian parentage, I have been influenced by Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, all the Eastern religions, so all my life I have been exposed to different religions, philosophies and forms of spirituality,” says Mr Ah-Weng.

“My beliefs are an accumulation of my personal journey through life. I have a universal belief – I know there is one source of energy, of creation and of origin,” he says.

Mr Ah-Weng firmly believes that everything happens for a reason and that life is a spiritual and emotional curriculum which is specially designed for our growth as human beings.

“Our joys, dreams, sorrows, hopes, accomplishments and let-downs all have one purpose; of training us to be more refined, so that we may understand life better, with its sacredness and all its ups and downs.”

After experiencing the deaths of his father and grandmother in close succession and also going through the pain of divorce, Mr Ah-Weng had a heart attack; events he says shook his world upside-down. He feels it is a miracle that he survived the experience to be here today and says he then realised that emotions are part of who we are.

“Emotions are here because we are human, but at the same time they are here because we are also divine, so through the human we are torn apart so that we can be purified and rebuilt again.”

Education and career
After being educated at Seychelles College Mr Ah-Weng went to France and studied language, history, literature and philosophy. He then returned to Seychelles to work in education.

“First I started at the NYS (National Youth Service), then I was transferred to what was then called the School of Community Studies and then again transferred to the School of Education, which is now the Faculty of Education,” he recalls.

After some time at the ministry of education Mr Ah-Weng was sent to the United Kingdom for a post-graduate degree in education and returned to work as a teacher trainer.

“After a while I got tired of education, there were some personal frustrations and I didn’t want to do a master’s degree and then a PhD. One day, in the school library, I saw a very small advert for Care, and they were looking for someone to start prevention programmes. There were originally about 42 applicants, and in the end I was chosen because of my background in education and training.”

This was how Mr Ah-Weng came to Care as director in 1997. Always having been interested in working towards what he terms human development and growth potential, he took the opportunity to learn more about addiction and various methods of counselling, by attending training courses on addiction in Mauritius, India and Israel.

“In the meantime I was also getting my personal, informal education. I read about psychology, philosophy, literature, metaphysics and human growth. That is why today people refer to me as a doctor, and I have now stopped telling people that I am not a doctor, because they think that since over the years I have built up this knowledge and capacity, I must be a doctor. So now I say, whatever you say about me, it is correct, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he smiles.

Mr Ah-Weng says although he was always a nature lover, he fell in love with gardening late in life as a form of active meditation.
“I find it deeply therapeutic and very deeply rewarding. And of course, through gardening you discover and understand on a practical level what you have read about in the theoretical, that the earth is a living entity.”

“Another passion of mine is cooking, especially experimental cooking. I’ve been known to make a few boo-boos, but I love cooking, baking and chapatti-making,” he beams.

“I have always been fascinated by Indian culture and cuisine, and as luck would have it, my ex-wife is of mixed origin, mostly Indian and Portuguese. Her mum is a great cook, and I learned some things from her, especially how to make chapattis, and she would cook all different Indian styles for my benefit because she knew I had a great passion for it.”

Mr Ah-Weng says that meditation is a large part of his identity and dreams that one day his life will become what he calls a “living meditation”. Having always been drawn towards spiritual traditions and religions, he likes to say that he is in the construction business, not that of buildings, but rather the construction of human beings.

“We need to go into deep silence every day, as part of who we are, as part of our lifestyle; as we sleep, we breathe, we rest, we also need to stop and go deep inside,” he says.

“This is an inculcation that I think is very much needed in Seychelles because we have a lot of background noise. You hear a lot of noise, swearing, gossiping all the time and it’s very sad, because no matter how much we progress and develop in a material sense, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a better civilisation. Collectively we will not evolve unless we refine ourselves as better human beings and as a nation.”

Conduits for a higher purpose
Mr Ah-Weng says he has learned through his own personal disappointment, pain, sorrow and joy, that we are all needed for a higher purpose.
“We are all called upon to become refined human beings, for life to flow through us and for God, or whatever name you ascribe for the source of all life, to speak through us and use us.”

“We are all put on this earth to become refined receptacles, and as we become more purified and refined and better, it is our duty to reach out to others. So as I get more and more tested and refined as an instrument, it is for the sake of service to others, and that is living, applied and practical spirituality.

He tries to apply this philosophy to Care and encourages his colleagues to share in his passion.
“I always try my best to get others to adopt the belief that no-one should walk in through the doors of Care House and go out the same. We are here to serve, inspire and educate and the job of addiction education is not just about substances. It’s about the emotions of people.”

The legacy of Care
Mr Ah-Weng believes that the root cause of addiction is a search for what he terms the sacredness of life, and says that people then fall victim to the substances themselves.

“When you talk to someone who is addicted, you will find the pain and sorrow and confusion, the rejection, the sense of being unloved, the incapacity to cope with what’s inside and so outside they fall prey to drugs and alcohol. People don’t start taking drugs because they want to do drugs or because they want pain and suffering, what they are really searching for is sacredness, peace and love.”

When he thinks about Care’s role in society, he says he would like to think of it as an inspirational organisation for personal transformation, and says that his challenge is to get the country to understand that Care is not only about drugs and alcohol.

“When you look at the work we do in schools through our various programmes, we teach our children that in order for you to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol and drug abuse and all associated ills, know who you are as a human being and discover your own sacredness and your innate value.”
Mr Ah Weng notes that government’s Social Renaissance campaign is in line with Care’s principles. “If every boy and girl in school can understand the work we do, they will understand that we are all more than we appear to be. We must go beyond the circumstantial evidence of our lives and realise that each one of us is unique and special. That is the only way that we can look at the world outside and face all of its ups and downs.”

“When you close your eyes and go down deep inside you must realise that you cannot make all of this disappear, but you can try to strengthen your inner person. When we are tempted and even when we fall, we must not allow ourselves to fall to such a low level that we cannot pick ourselves up again with the help of others.”

“We must know that our life journey is a mixture of making mistakes and also learning from those mistakes and that we are not prisoners of our life circumstances – on the contrary, we can use our life circumstances for our own growth and transformation, and this is a central message for the revival of the renesans sosyal e moral.”

By Hajira Amla