Asho sits on a chair in the front garden, enjoying the quiet stillness of the early morning. A hot cuppa in hand, he waits for the town to wake, the sun to warm the earth, and his colleagues to arrive.
He’s the first to the Ceduna Community Hub every weekday, rain, hail or shine. As soon as the doors open, Asho grabs his Red Cross shirt off the rack.
“When I put the T-shirt on, my heart gets bigger and my mind and my soul gets a lot wider. Just makes me feel good inside that I’m helping other people with the uniform on,” Asho says with a smile from ear to ear.
The Community Hub is a beating heart in the centre of Ceduna, a town of over two thousand people on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Visitors are local, from nearby Yalata and Koonibba, or passing tourists crossing the Nullarbor.
Since Red Cross opened its doors at the new community hub a year ago, more than 25,000 cups of tea and coffee have been brewed, 13 thousand connections made and lives changed in big and small ways. From a warm smile and a friendly ear lifting someone’s day, to support completing a job application, court matters or getting a licence.
More than a familiar face
As the morning ticks by, a steady stream of people come and go. Some stop and chat on the footpath, others enter the gates. They all greet the familiar face in the garden. “Morning Asho!”
Asho replies with a smile, a nod and wave. “Morning.”
Asho has been volunteering at Red Cross for a year. It means everything to him.
Volunteering and helping people comes naturally to Asho. It’s an invisible string that connects him to his mum who recently passed away. Asho speaks lovingly about her.
“Mum told me that the two of us got big hearts. I took over her role. ”
Brenton, who manages the Ceduna Community Hub, says Asho was meant to be here.
“It gives him his place in this bigger context of what we’re doing here, and it actually gives him his opportunity to connect back to his community and support his own mob.”
Asho had a stroke when he was 13 months old which affected the right side of his body, leaving little movement in his arm. But his disability has never impacted his determination.
In his teens, Asho got a mechanics certificate and worked for many years under the hood of cars, before a workplace accident ended his career.
Then, a family tragedy hit Asho hard and his mental health deteriorated after his brother passed away. Asho sought help and, with the right medication, was determined to look after his health.
This included increasing his independence, which was why he decided to finally get his driver licence at 37.
“I need different things for cars, like modifications. The steering knobbly on the steering wheel is the best thing ever. Then people like me who’s got a disability can drive and help other people in disability as well. I just show them that if I can drive, they can too.”
Asho connected with Red Cross through its Learner Driver Mentor Program. He and Brenton hit the road and a friendship formed over 60 hours of left and right turns, give-way and stop signs.
During those lessons Asho learnt about the Community Hub. It ‘planted a seed’ in his head and he asked to be a volunteer.
Asho is close to completing his learner driver hours and next is the driving test. When he gets his licence, Asho, a lover of ornate cups, says he’s going to drive to Port Pirie to find some special pieces to add to his collection.
A local man, Asho is connected to many through family and friendships.
“They know where to see me if they wanna catch up, and I make coffees and have a yarn and see what stress they’re under and then I can help them as best I can. I give them advice and they go back and they do that advice and it’s like, makes me feel happy inside, 'cause I come back after work and I say “Oh I’ve done that”.
Brenton says visitors know and trust Asho and that’s an important first step to supporting people.
Asho says there’s so much about his job that he loves, the friendships, helping people and being a role model for other people with a disability. He adds, because he could have another stroke at any time, a positive and healthy outlook is important, and volunteering at Red Cross gives him that.
“It feels good. I can’t describe it, but just feels good in the heart and in the body.”