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  KL Downtown a hit
 

By YIP YOKE TENG, AllMalaysia.info

When KL Downtown night market began operations last April, members of the surrounding communities were quite sure that it would not survive more than three months.

The hurtful remarks still linger in Mohd Rustam Roshandin's mind - and he wants to remember them as they serve to continuously motivate the young manager of the night market.

There was a reason for the communities to be sceptical: the night market is run by former drug addicts from Pengasih Association Malaysia and 10% of the traders are former or recovering drug dependants.

The operators have managed to crush the common perception that drug users are not credible or committed and the market now houses 400 busy stalls selling knick-knacks, snacks and apparel.


Bright lights: KL Downtown is decorated to create a carnival-like atmosphere.

It is learned that many traders have come to ply their wares here, while a good number of youths also take up the lots offered at attractive rates to start businesses young.

More than 10,000 shoppers throng the vibrant bazaar on the eves of weekends, while numerous talented artistes also perform regularly.

City Hall endorses the project by providing licences, as well as the strategic and spacious venue that sits on the Velodrome's parking area in Bandar Tun Razak.

The project has also received support from many a minister, including Federal Territories Minister Datuk Zulhasnan Rafique.

“I thank the people who did not believe in us. They have made us stronger,” said the soft-spoken Rustam.

“They felt their safety was going to be threatened and I could understand that.”

Rustam is only 24 years old and was drug dependant for three years, but has been clean for seven years now. He completed his secondary education at Pegasih, and is pursuing a diploma in culinary skills with the association.


All smiles: Mohd Yusof (right) helping a customer at his Kacang Putih stall.

He learned management skills from his father, whose company manages car parks and condominiums.

 
 

 
Rustam smiled shyly when asked if his parents had said they were proud of him.

“This is not good enough. I want to make them happier. In three or four years' time, I will show them better results.”

KL Downtown is one of the projects initiated by Pengasih to provide economic opportunities to former drug addicts. While they learn to trade, Pengasih also generates more funds for future activities.

Trader Mohd Yusof Othman, 47, was all smiles at his kacang putih stall.

“I was taking drugs for as long as 22 years, but I have been clean for 10 years now!” Ipoh-born Yusof declared proudly when he introduced himself.

He finally decided to quit because he was “unbearably bored with it,” but had spent a long period going in and out of rehabilitation centres until he found Pengasih.

“I think the programme worked for me because it taught me how to handle my emotions, and develop ways to help us former drug addicts handle our daily lives, practically.

“I had always wanted to be a businessman but never thought that I could become one,” said the father of a two-year-old child with a broad grin.

Kl Downtown is open from 10pm to 4am daily, except Mondays. It is further enlivened by weekly concerts that promote drug- and alcohol-free activities.

If that is not good enough, Street@KL Downtown was launched recently, offering shoppers a string of street activities including busking, portrait drawing, shuffle dancing, magic shows, fire-eating, stilt-walking and graffiti drawing.

“Pengasih is probably the only NGO in the world whose committee and members are all former and recovering drug dependants,” said Pengasih president Yunus Pathi with a smile.

Yunus was addicted to drugs in the early ’70s when he was 16, due to peer pressure and family problems. He was in and out of jail and rehabilitation centres, and finally kicked the habit in 1984.

He is still thankful to his then counsellor who provided him a beacon of hope after about 10 years of addiction.

“He encouraged me to take part in a marathon. I did not win but I was surprised that I could actually complete the marathon. I started to feel that if I want to do something, I can do it,” he reminisced.

Having regained self-confidence, Yunus and six friends he met in prison and rehabilitation centres set out to form the association.

It started as a small support group giving counselling sessions to drug addicts and their families on weekends. A pro tem committee was formed in 1987, but the association was registered only in 1991.

“We were all recovering drug addicts and the authorities wanted more time to assess us,” he said.

In 1994, Yunus pursued a diploma in substance abuse in the United States and returned to introduce a more effective rehabilitation programme in Pengasih.

Today, the association has nine drop-in centres and 8,000 members promoting anti-drug campaigns.

KL Downtown night market is one of the association's successful projects providing economic opportunities to ex-addicts.

Pengasih is currently carrying out the “Stop Crying (Hentikan Tangisan)” campaign to extend help not only to drug addicts, but also their families.

Three billboards sponsored by DBKL, Asia News Broadcasting (ABN), Kurnia and Sprint have been put up at major highways in Kuala Lumpur to publicise its help line – 03-6201 3179.

A petrol company is considering working with the association to distribute wristbands with red ribbon motifs at its petrol stations to create better awareness on drug abuse.

It is also in discussions with several corporations on introducing drug-free workplaces.

 
 
 
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