CARE Bhutan – Taking care of vulnerable youth

Pema Tshomo, Thimphu

When the snowfall brought down the stalls of Respect, Educate, Nurture, Empower, Women (RENEW’s) fair at Changligmithang, a group of youth was seen helping other volunteers. A month back the same group was seen organizing a fund raising activity at Changligmithang. Who are they?

They are members of CARE Bhutan, an organization with a social cause – to reintegrate recovering substance abusers and those coming from rehabilitation centers back in the society. Led by Thinley Dorji, 33, from Khasadrapchu, they are a group who ardently believes that everyone, even substance abusers, past and present can contribute to nation building.

Going down memory lane, Thinley Dorji, says that he started abusing substances such as marijuana and alcohol at a very early age. “It was out of my own interest and before I knew, I found out that I was addicted,” he says, adding that he was “hooked” for more than seven years. It was a time that Thinley wants to forget. “I could do nothing. Everyone looked at me as a drug addict. The society ostracized me,” Thinley reminisces.

But his mother did not give up and Thinley was sent to the rehabilitation center in Paro, which he describes as “the turning point of his life.” ‘‘Initially, I suffered but I took it as a challenge. I had made my parents very unhappy. It was time to make them happy and as days passed in the rehabilitation centre, I planned the journey of my life,” he says.

Within the confines of the rehabilitation centre, Thinley learned that if one’s mind is kept occupied, the desire for substances ebbed. “I thought over it and realized that the saying, ‘an empty mind is a devil’s workshop’ is true.” Thinley says that he thought about other friends who were also addicts and those who were not. “I realized that those friends who were always engaged in work were not abusers,” he says, adding that it then dawned on him that if recovering addicts and those vulnerable were kept engaged, they would not face the fate that he encountered. “I made up my mind to do something on this front,” he says.

In 2016, Thinley and his friends started a group called CARE Bhutan. “Through interactions we found out that social reintegration for recovering addicts and those coming from rehabilitation centers were not there.” Thinley says that these youth were socially ostracized, unemployed and most relapsed. Through CARE Bhutan, Thinley and his friends wanted to initiate a reintegration program and also keep the vulnerable youth occupied. “We began with the uprooting of marijuana plants, cleaning drains and the streets.” When asked what the major challenge was, Thinley says it is “money.” “Though social work is important, for the youth, money to just sustain them is also important,” he says.

The first glimpse of economic assistance came when the Thimphu Thrompon, let CARE Bhutan take over the park at Changlimithang. “On January 5, 2017, we were given the opportunity to operate the park, including the canteen. From there, we are now able to generate a reasonable sum to meet current expenditures,” he said.

Currently, CARE Bhutan has employed 15 youth. “If our plans go well and the government supports us, we will be able to generate employment for more than 500 youth,” Thinley says, adding that all addicts, recovering ones and those from the rehabilitation centers would find a job. “I can justifiably say that CARE Bhutan can do it,” he says.
Sonam Dorji, General Manager of CARE Bhutan told The Journalist that there are several civil society organizations (CSOs) with similar mandates like CARE Bhutan. “But we are a bit different.

Our focus is reintegration and prevention. We want to keep the youth occupied so that they do not resort to substance abuse. On the other hand we want to provide them jobs, which will help them a lot,” he says.

Meanwhile the organization is going to approach the Thromde for a project, which Thinley says will benefit more than 250 youth from different background, apart from strengthening the economic sustainability of CARE Bhutan. “We have prepared a proposal, which will be submitted to the Thromde. Dasho Thrompon has helped us and I hope we will receive similar help,” he said.

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