[We Care, We Share] Inspiring story: Hope for a new life – reintegrating happiness

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UN and JICA Bhutan’s joint initiative- resilience tools for COVID-19

Hope for a new life- reintegrating happiness

It is a sunny day at the Happiness Center in Phuentsholing. 42-year-old Bhupdhoj Ghalley (founder) gathers everyone at the shelter for a morning meditation session. The Happiness Center opened in 2019 as a voluntary outreach shelter for recovering drug and alcohol addicts and homeless elderly. Bhupdhoj, along with co-founder Ugyen Dorji, are both former addicts and passionate social workers. Currently, there are 19 individuals living at the center.

“After completing rehab, the care and attention needed for addicts is very important. While many think they have fully recovered, families and the communities must help them find their lives again and reintegrate them back into society. If the proper care is not given post-rehab, they can relapse at any time. We wanted this home to be a place to engage them and assist in their full recovery process with jobs,” says Bhupdhoj.  “Initially when it started, we received a lot of support from the thromde, RBP, individuals and the community and we still do. Since we are currently working to affiliate our center to Nazhoen Lamtoen, there are challenges in sustaining our center,” adds Ugyen.

The shelter home also renders support to homeless individuals and refers them to their families or the elderly home in Thimphu. To date, they have referred more than 14 homeless persons, 35 individuals to rehabs, detoxed 90 people and reintegrated 60 recovered individuals with jobs and a source of livelihood. With the pandemic impacting the entry of foreign workers, around 14 individuals from the Happiness Center were involved in working at the Mini-Dry Port and in other work usually provided by foreign workers. When the first lockdown took place last year, Bhupdhoj recounts receiving many phone calls requesting the center to accommodate addicts who were experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to closure of bars and borders.

“We received around 3 persons per week during the lockdown. Since we have a small house with only two rooms, we faced challenges in taking in more individuals as space and resources did not allow. However, we tried our best to help as much as possible at such a time,” says Bhupdhoj.

“If we had more rooms and better facilities and resources, we would have liked to expand our services especially to provide nutritious food here. As most are addicts, the quality of food plays a major role in their mental and physical health recovery. We also invite former addicts to come here and talk with them. We conduct extracurricular activities and hold a reflection session every night, where they share about their day. We constantly motivate them. We are family here,” says Ugyen.

One of the significant challenges in supporting recovering addicts, is the reintegration process. From a long-term perspective, most individuals have difficulty in resuming their education, acquiring skills and finding jobs after undergoing rehabilitation. This is mainly due to the lack of support, awareness and counselling. These individuals face a big challenge in making a livelihood for themselves and as a result, relapse. With substantial support and recognition received from the Phuentsholing community, the Happiness Center has been able to reconnect recovering addicts to society with jobs and to their families and communities.

“Addiction is like any other disease, it is not a craving or a habit. Society must not stigmatize addicts, but instead trust, encourage and help them rebuild their lives. A huge part of their recovery depends on society’s treatment and COVID-19 has given us a chance to reintegrate them with jobs. In the near future, we would like to expand our center to other parts of the country which lack such services and have separate dorms for homeless and recovering addicts,” adds Bhupdhoj.  “Our motivation comes from them. When we see them get jobs and change in front of our eyes to become part of the community, it inspires us to work harder,” says both Bhupdhoj and Ugyen in agreement. 

The sun is often associated with happiness and life. At the Happiness Center, there is hope for a new life.

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