Soft spoken, yet eloquent, Legphel did his schooling from upper TCV in Dharamshala, and went on to earn his Bachelor's degree from Punjab University in Chandigarh. For the past six years, he has worked at Kunphen , with the last two years in a directorial capacity.
Legphel says that he first came to Kunphen as a volunteer, and later joined the organisation because of a close personal reason: "My cousin had died earlier of a drug overdose, and due to this I became more involved in Kunphen and its activities."
Legphel says that the HIV/AIDS and drug abuse are connected because most of the cases of HIV/AIDS come from drug users who inject themselves using unsafe methods and unsterilized needles. The Kunphen office normally deals with this issue in two different ways.
Methods and Treatment
The first method is to send affected patients to different rehabilitation centres that are being run by the Indian government and other private institutions. As far as possible, these patients are sent to these facilities free of cost, because most of the addicts are poor and live on the street.
According to the NGO 's website "The entire expenditure for treatment is being paid through Kunphen. Fifty percent of the total cost of each user's rehab is being donated by the Tibetan Government in Exile's Department of Health. The cost for each user's treatment varies according to the severity of the addiction and the participant's health. Through our rehabilitation program we help more than 20 addicts each year."
Legphel also talked about the "After Care Program" saying that "this is the second step in assisting a drug addict or user with recovery. After-care is a unique program and it holds a very important place in our efforts to ensure users recover successfully and completely."
The "After Care Program" is used to help drug addicts who are normally ostracized by society. This is a way for people like this to go back to their normal life with their family and in society. In the program, sufferers are given basic vocational training to help them find jobs after a life of addiction. Sadly most of these patients are High school dropouts, most of whom do not even get past the Eighth grade.
Spreading awareness and reaching out
Legphel talks about Kunphen's "Awareness and Outreach Program", where volunteers and staff members travel to Tibetan settlements, schools and other public places to sensitize and educate the general public, youth and educators about drug addiction and its dangers.
PowerPoint presentations are made, and also to make it more interesting, video clips are shown from various documentaries to showcase the evils of addiction. In schools, children in the age group of 13 to 20 are specifically targeted, because Legphel believes that this demographic segment is the most vulnerable to peer pressure that cause them to use or try drugs.
He tells us of past efforts such as music concerts. These events have been a huge success in the past and become a very popular and effective way of addressing HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, while disseminating information in a more socially acceptable yet fun way.
Success Stories and Hope for a Better Life
Kunphen has so far helped 125 people to get out of drug addiction, but Legphel says that these 125 were willing to help themselves and give themselves a fighting chance for a shot at a new life. When asked about the countless others who are too afraid to help themselves, and what is Kunphen's strategy to these people Legphel says:
"The first step would be to just talk to these people and mingle with them, become one with the crowd. Most times, this is undertaken by the staff at Kunphen, but if the situation is too difficult, then former drug addicts are used, to help the current sufferers open up about their condition and state of mind. It's a form of counseling, but it's done by a former drug addict."
When asked about the possible trends in drug abuse and the profiles of drug abusers, Legphel had some alarming points. He said that, "earlier on, drug addicts would be older, around the ages of 30 and above, although now that is changing. Addiction has started from a younger age, i.e. the teenage years from the ages of 14 to the late 20's. The addicts who were older, were able to think for themselves and are later on able to battle addiction on their own, but teenagers do not have that capacity"
He said that more and more teenagers have started using pharmaceutical drugs, which really have an adverse effect, mentally and physically. Earlier, drugs like marijuana, which is readily available across the state and neighbouring areas, were used. But now, also pharmaceutical drugs like Spasmo and some psycho-pharmaca pills are beeing used. These pills are a mix of other powerful drugs and are therefore extremely dangerous. When taken by mental patients, these pills may help, but when taken by people who do not need them, they can be immensely dangerous.
Legphel says that the gender ratio of addicts remains almost wholly in favour of men, although this is not to say that there are no women addicts. The women who do suffer are normally too scared to come out into the public with their problems.
Making Ends Meet
Mr Legphel tells us that when Kunphen had first started out ten years ago, they received a generous donation of 25 lakhs from The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama. This money was then used to setup the clinic and the office for the organization.
Kunphen now runs on Donations from volunteers and other charitable means.