Substance abuser turns savior for the desolate

Substance abuser turns savior for the desolate

Roaming with vigilant eyes, tattooed arms, wearing boots, he appears to be high on drugs. But that’s not what Ugyen Dorji actually is. He is frequently seen helping the homeless and helpless elderly wandering in the streets of Phuentsholing. The roughness on his face carries a certain calm and composure. 

Ugyen Dorji, 35, from Sha Ngawang in Wangdue has been actively involved in helping the homeless around the town. He began to act after coming clean from substance abuse which hijacked his youth.

Without a proper caregiver, Ugyen started doing drugs at an early age. Later after losing his mother, he was taken care of by the police with his father’s request.

After being a drug addict for more than 25 years and being convicted and imprisoned for more than five times, he has now dedicated his life to help the homeless found lying on the streets. Ugyen has been actively involved in the social cause since 2017 after returning from Goodwill Rehabilitation center in Darjeeling, India. He was motivated by a peer counselor, from whom he learnt about social work. He started by attending to a homeless man while the man was into detoxification.

Ugyen has so far rescued and helped more than 10 homeless from the streets. He provides shelter to these people at the Old Age Transit camp (now called as Happiness Center) located in Phuentsholing. He runs the center with Bhup Dhoj Ghalley, another volunteer helping recovering addicts. “Due to drugs and alcohol, people become homeless unable to cope up with the family members,” he said. He has also admitted a man to Bless Foundation Rehabilitation Center, run by Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Jaigaon, India. The center has also helped other Bhutanese too. Happiness Center is helped by Phuentsholing’s business community and other supporters who provide rations for the people admitted.

Ugyen is also an ex-soldier who joined the Royal Bhutan Army in 2003 to fight militants in Pemagatshel. After serving for three years, he resigned in 2006. “I resigned with all the benefits, but I was so into drugs I had to resign,” he said. He has then temporarily served as security guard followed by contractual movie screening business. “I find solace in helping the elderly  as I can feel their pain and it’s my passion too,” he said.    

Ugyen Dorji feels similar sympathy for drug abusers and alcoholics. “They are compelled by one or other ways to abuse narcotics and it’s our responsibility to help them in a small society. I will try my best,” he said. Ugyen also helps in counseling drug abusers.

However, the center being small and compact faces challenges in providing services. The two-roomed house with an office and kitchen is mostly occupied. “We would be happy if the government comes up with better infrastructure for enhanced services.

The center is run by two volunteers for recovering drug addicts and homeless people. The ration provided by the parents of recovering drug addicts is shared for the homeless people too,” said Ugyen. He also funds his work from his wife’s earning from a paan shop in the town. “I am grateful to my wife, the hospital staff and the officials involved in running the center,” Ugyen Dorji said. Today, Ugyen Dorji and his team help around 10 homeless and drug addicts every month.        

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing